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What’s The Difference? Bipolar Vs BPD

Mental health awareness is on the rise in political arguments, and personal experiences are becoming a hot topic of conversation. However, despite the recognition of many highly characterized mental disorders, many people remain unsure of the distinguishing differences each disorder can have. One of the common misconceptions comes from the use of the terms bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. While these two share some symptoms, it is essential to understand the characteristics that make them different.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) presents a recurring pattern of varying behavior. BPD presents in individuals with varying degrees and numerous symptoms. Individuals diagnosed with BPD often exhibit reckless behavior such as overspending, overindulging or engaging in risk-taking behavior such as driving with abandon or having multiple sexual partners without protection.

Individuals struggling with BPD may also have problems with extremist mentalities. Their emotional responses to everyday situations may be expressed with higher levels, such as raging over a lost pen or sobbing hysterically due to an ill-fitting dress. Individuals with BPD may struggle to maintain relationships with their friends or family. Because of their nature for an extreme mentality, these individuals may quickly connect to others with idealization and attachment then move to disapproval and hatred for seemingly no reason. This unstable back-and-forth behavior makes it difficult for romantic partners, friends or family to connect with the individual without triggering a negative response successfully.

Those struggling with BPD issues may exhibit unhealthy self-image issues or behaviors such self-harm or eating disorders. Mood swings are also frequent for those living with BPD. It is common for individuals with BPD to disassociate themselves from others due to their lowered sense of self and decreased ability to establish trusting relationships.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by periods of extreme “highs” and “lows”. Individuals living with Bipolar disorder may experience vast changes in their mood, energy and activity level because of this disorder. Manic episodes or ‘highs’ can consist of long periods where the individual is energetic, outgoing and has active engagement in a variety of activities.

During manic episodes, many individuals with bipolar disorder experience feelings of euphoria or increasingly high feelings of being in a good mood. Many times, these manic episodes are thought to be periods where the individual is feeling ‘normal’ or is not sick. Often friends and family members will mistake these episodes as being a sign that the individual is ‘getting better’ or is no longer in need of treatment. These marked periods are typically followed by ‘lows’, or depressive episodes. During depressive episodes, the individual may exhibit signs of hopelessness or depression, avoiding friends and family and being lethargic.

There are four recognized categories of bipolar disorder, each with varying levels of symptoms.  Bipolar Disorder I is categorized by manic episodes which last at least 7 days and depressive periods lasting two weeks or longer and typically require the individual to be hospitalized due to the severity of the symptoms.

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Bipolar Disorder II shares similar qualities of Bipolar Disorder I but the manic periods are considered hypomanic, meaning they are not as intense as full-blown mania. Cyclothymic disorder is a category of Bipolar Disorder where the individual has experienced both hypomania and depressive periods, but they do not meet the qualifications to be recognized as Bipolar Disorder I or II.

Those diagnosed with the Cyclothymic disorder will have experienced numerous cycles of these hypomanic and depressive states for a period of two or more years. Finally, the fourth category of Bipolar Disorder consists of individuals who experience symptoms, but they do not fit in one of the previously mentioned categories. These individuals may periodically struggle with episodes of mania, hypomania, and depression but they are not frequent, or they may have periods of balance between episodes.

Causes, Triggers, and Differences

The causes for both BPD and bipolar disorder are yet to be determined but both are believed to result from a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors. In both disorders, individuals who have been diagnosed may experience recurring suicidal thoughts. While both BPD and bipolar disorder affect the individual’s mood, one of the significant differences between the disorders are what triggers the emotional response.

For individuals struggling with BPD, personal relationships and interactions are often the cause of the extreme behavior. For those with bipolar disorders, these changes in mood and state of mind are often brought on without cause, seeming to just occur rather than having a directly linked trigger responsible for the response.

Another difference between the disorders comes with the experience of symptoms. Individuals living with bipolar disorder may have stages where they are neither manic nor depressive. On the other hand, individuals living with BPD experience their symptoms for most of the time, struggling to establish a baseline or period where they are not impacted or affected by the symptoms of their disorder. Additionally, individuals who are most likely to develop bipolar disorder are often those who have had a family member affected by the illness whereas BPD can develop through an extremely stressful childhood or even as a product of naturally occurring personality traits.

Both BPD and bipolar disorder can create difficulties for the individual affected and those around them. However, seeking and sticking with an effective treatment plan greatly improves the quality of life for those suffering. The treatment options include medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Medications can help the individual in coping with the symptoms such as mood swings, insomnia, and depression. Therapy options such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy help individuals by teaching coping skills and identifying the underlying causes for feelings or thoughts they may be experiencing.

Therapy options will often include family or loved ones to allow both the affected individual and their family become more familiar and understanding with the triggers and behaviors which can occur from the disorder. In extreme cases where symptoms are severe, the individual may need the assistance of an inpatient program for the best care options.

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Angela Sartain, PhD Psychology
Angela Sartain, PhD Psychology

Angela is currently finishing up her doctoral degree program in General Psychology. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and crafting crochet dolls for her small business.

1 Comment

  • May 29, 2018 at 12:51 am
    Tessa L Johnson

    Great in-depth read. Loved this article.

    Reply

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