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Both depression and bipolar disorder are listed, respectively, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as chronic mood disorders. Mood disorders, also known as affective disorders, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine denote “a mental health class that health professionals use to broadly describe all types of depression and bipolar disorders.” Although both ailments are classified as mood disorders, they are two distinct mental health illnesses with different symptoms, risk factors, characteristics, and treatment prognoses. To gain a further understanding the differences between teen depression and teen bipolar disorder it is helpful to learn about each disorder individually. 


Major depressive disorder (MDD), also known as unipolar and clinical depression, is a complex psychiatric disorder that affects mood, cognition, behavior, and impedes adaptive functioning. It is a debilitating disease that is characterized by “depressed mood, diminished interests, impaired cognitive function and vegetative symptoms, such as disturbed sleep or appetite.” The symptoms of depression can range from mild to severe and will directly depend on the adolescent and his or her circumstances. Nevertheless, Harvard Medical School explains that the most prominent symptoms of depression include a severe and persistent low mood, profound sadness, or a sense of despair. Psycom asserts that “the unipolar connotes a difference between major depression and bipolar depression, which refers to an oscillating state between depression and mania.” Fortunately, depression is among the most treatable of mental disorders. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) asserts that between 80% and 90% percent of people with depression eventually respond well to treatment, and the vast majority gain some relief from their symptoms.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, formerly referred to as manic-depressive disorder or manic depression, is a neurological disorder that causes extreme fluctuation in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. It is characterized by noticeable, unprovoked, sometimes extreme, changes in mood and behavior, that typically present as severe episodic mood swings, shifting between emotional highs (manias) to emotional lows (depressions) with intervals of stable moods. As such, the use of the word bipolar reflects this fluctuation between extreme highs and extreme lows. Bipolar disorder symptoms can affect an adolescent’s energy levels, activity, social network, sleep, behaviors, judgment, and family life. According to the diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-5, bipolar disorder is diagnosed when a young person experiences three or more manic symptoms and five or more depressive symptoms. The symptoms and severity of symptoms will vary from teen to teen and may shift over time. Although bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health condition there are effective treatment options available. According to the National Advisory Mental Health Council, the treatment success rate for bipolar disorder is nearly eighty percent.

For Information and Support 

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times. Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


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