Understanding Bipolar Depression: Triggers and Symptoms
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Living with bipolar disorder and its often debilitating symptoms can be both challenging and frustrating to deal with. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether what you’re feeling is coming from your mental health disorder or if it’s the result of something else. 


If you’re wondering whether a person with bipolar disorder can also be depressed, the short answer is yes. Depression is the most common and debilitating symptom of bipolar disorder. It’s an even more common symptom than manic or hypomanic episodes. While depression can be a symptom of bipolar disorder, bipolar depression is not the same diagnosis as major depressive disorder.


If you’re someone who has bipolar disorder and you’re also struggling with feeling depressed, you’re not alone. Let’s dive into why this happens and what bipolar depression can look like for you.


What can trigger a bipolar mood episode?


Bipolar disorder is characterized by manic and depressive cycles, and bipolar depression refers exclusively to the depressive phase of that cycle. So, what triggers these episodes of bipolar depression? Here’s a list of common factors that can lead to either a manic or a depressive mood episode.


  • Stress — Stress is one of the triggers of mood episodes for people with bipolar disorder. Research has shown that negative life events were significantly associated with both manic and depressive episodes. This can include job issues, family struggles or any other significant life changes.


  • Sleep disruption — Changes in sleep patterns due to a new job, a stressful school schedule, or even daylight savings time can all be a catalyst for a manic or depressive episode. These changes in your sleep routine can be difficult to adjust to, and poor sleep will only contribute to your overall stress.


  • Strained relationships — Bipolar episodes can be set off by fights with friends, challenges among co-workers or the breakdown of a romantic relationship. Uncertainty in your closest relationships may make you prone to an emotional outburst or withdrawal.


  • Pregnancy — Severe bipolar episodes can sometimes occur post-pregnancy. This may be due to hormonal changes, shifting sleep patterns, or a number of other disruptions to your life and body.


  • Bereavement — A loved one dying can be especially triggering for people with bipolar disorder, and grieving that person can cause a depressive episode.


There are many triggers for bipolar depressive episodes, but the most common underlying reason is a disruption either in your physical routine or in your relationships. Knowing what can cause bipolar depression may help you recognize when you’re experiencing a depressive episode. This knowledge can also help you manage depressive episodes more effectively. 


What do symptoms of bipolar depression look like?


The symptoms of bipolar depression often seem the same as the symptoms of major depressive disorder. People with both of these conditions experience feelings of sadness, hopelessness, changes in sleep and appetite, and decreased energy. Here are some common symptoms of bipolar depression that you may experience:


  • Depressed mood, such as feeling sad, empty, hopeless or tearful
  • Lack of enjoyment in activities you typically enjoy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Indecisiveness and decreased ability to concentrate
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Restlessness or slowed behavior
  • Forgetfulness
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Thinking about, planning or attempting suicide


If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or are thinking of harming yourself, call or text 988, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, for immediate support.


Lightfully is here to help support people with bipolar depression


If you’re in the middle of a depressive episode, you might feel discouraged, sad or scared. But you don’t have to go through this alone. Our licensed clinical experts are here to offer you support and help you deal with the symptoms of your bipolar disorder. 


At Lightfully, we want to help you live your life to the fullest. That means we focus on whole-person-centered care. We develop unique, evidence-based treatment plans tailored to each of our clients’ individual needs. You’re not just a diagnosis; you’re a person. And we want to help that person succeed in living their best life. 


Dealing with bipolar depression is possible. When you’re ready to find help for your bipolar disorder, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll talk about the steps we can take together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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