Bipolar and borderline personality disorders are issues that affect millions of adults. They are also widely misunderstood.
While these two disorders share many symptoms and signs, they are entirely different issues. Due to the differences, bipolar and borderline personality disorder require different methods of treatment.
Unfortunately, the similarities can also make the diagnosis process more of a challenge. In some cases, individuals may forgo treatment due to common misconceptions about these disorders.
Here is what you should know about bipolar and borderline personality disorders.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that involves changes in mood, activity levels, and energy.
People suffering from a borderline personality disorder (BPD) or bipolar disorder are more likely to engage in impulsive behavior and experience mood swings. However, the way that these symptoms are expressed can vary.
Bipolar disorder results in alternating periods of mania and depression, which is why the disorder was formerly called manic depression. The manic and depressed states cause extreme mood swings.
The length of each period varies. People suffering from bipolar disorder may experience manic states that last for minutes, hours, days, or even weeks.
The mood swings can also result in dramatic changes in behavior throughout the day. Additional issues include changes to sleep patterns, energy levels, and social behavior.
What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) also results in mood swings. However, it is a personality disorder. Besides changes in moods, it can cause abrupt changes in behavior.
BPD is a mental disorder that changes the way that you feel and think about yourself and those around you. It can lead to a variety of problems in everyday life.
People who suffer from BPD often experience seemingly random changes related to self-image, relationships, and social interactions. Unlike bipolar disorder, these changes do not include periods of extreme mania and extreme depression.
With BPD, the changes are often triggered by strong emotional responses to life events and social situations. People who suffer from this condition are also more likely to suffer from other mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
BPD sufferers are also at higher risk of dealing with body image issues, eating disorders, and addictions.
As with bipolar, the exact cause of the condition is unknown. Doctors understand that the disorder is likely linked to genetics and brain abnormalities. However, there are also risk factors for BPD, including childhood stress or trauma and PTSD.
Common Signs of Bipolar Disorder
As bipolar disorder includes periods of mania and depression, the signs of the disorder can vary depending on the current state of the patient.
For example, when experiencing mania, individuals tend to exhibit high energy levels and may act impulsively. When depressed, they may become low energy and shut themselves off from others.
Common symptoms and signs of bipolar disorder during manic states include:
- Extreme happiness, anger, or irritability
- Racing thoughts
- Ambitious planning
- Rapid speech
- High energy levels
- Reduced sleep
When bipolar individuals enter a state of depression, the symptoms of the disorder change. Besides generalized depression, the following symptoms are common during a depressed state:
- Low energy levels
- Prolonged sadness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Additional anxiety
- Lack of interest in favorite hobbies
- Lack of appetite
- Suicidal thoughts
The changes in moods are rarely triggered by a specific event. The changes tend to come and go depending on specific brain activity, which is one of the biggest differences between bipolar and BPD.
Without treatment, this can be a difficult condition to deal with. The extreme changes in moods can lead to a variety of complications in everyday life.
Individuals may find it hard to maintain jobs or relationships. There is also a greater risk of legal issues stemming from impulsive behavior during periods of mania.
Common Signs of Borderline Personality Disorder
The symptoms of BPD are not always easy to detect. Bipolar causes extreme states of mania and depression. With BPD, changes in moods are more erratic and often triggered by an external stimulus.
Some of the main symptoms and signs of BPD include:
- Difficulty managing emotions
- Reckless behavior
- Poor self-esteem
- Mood swings
Intense fear of abandonment is also a common symptom. These symptoms may also lead to additional issues. For example, people who suffer from BPD often have a history of unstable relationships, self-harm, or substance abuse.
Besides these symptoms, there are additional complications related to BPD. People who suffer from this condition are more likely to repeatedly change or lose jobs and face legal issues. They are also less likely to complete their education or remain in healthy relationships.
Mood Disorders vs. Personality Disorders
Bipolar is a mood disorder while borderline personality disorder is a personality disorder. With mood disorders, individuals experience serious changes in moods. With personality disorders, individuals exhibit uncharacteristic changes to their personalities.
When suffering from BPD, it is common to suddenly have conflicting emotions or engage in behavior that does not match social expectations or their own personal values. These behaviors can occur randomly or due to a trigger.
Bipolar individuals are less likely to exhibit behavior that differs from their normal behavior except during extreme states of mania. During these periods, individuals experience high energy levels and act more impulsively but are still unlikely to act against their own nature.
Diagnosing BPD and Bipolar Disorder
Diagnosing these conditions can be difficult and misdiagnosis can occur. These conditions also require detailed examination to determine if other mental or physical issues may be causing the symptoms.
Some therapists and psychiatrists require patients to keep journals of their moods and energy levels to help diagnose the conditions.
BPD is rarely diagnosed based solely on symptoms. A psychological evaluation is often used, which typically includes a clinical interview and may include interviews with friends or family.
Common Treatments for Bipolar Disorder
After diagnosis, treating bipolar and borderline personality disorders varies. Bipolar is often treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. The medication may be used as a long-term solution for dealing with this condition.
Mood stabilizers are the most commonly used medications for treating bipolar disorder. These medications can help regulate and stabilize the brain to limit the severity of manic and depressed states. In some cases, antipsychotics or antidepressants may be prescribed.
Psychotherapy is often used to help patients learn how to deal with their extreme mood changes. They may learn coping techniques for managing stress and anxiety or to calm the mind when experiencing extreme mania.
With treatment for bipolar or BPD, patients are typically advised to abstain from alcohol and drugs as they increase the risk of mood changes and may negatively impact treatment.
Common Treatments for Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder is also often treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. However, psychotherapy takes an active role in treatment while the medication is mostly used to control some of the side effects, such as depression or anxiety.
Psychiatrists use psychotherapy to help patients understand the reasons for their impulsive or erratic behavior. They may help address past trauma or feelings that contribute to the current condition.
Continuous therapy is also used to give patients tools for dealing with their personality disorders. As with bipolar disorder, patients learn to cope with stress, anxiety, and mood swings.
There are also specialized forms of psychotherapy for dealing with BPD. Two common treatments include transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
TFP and DBT are often used to help patients manage their impulses as BPD sufferers are more likely to engage in impulsive behavior when triggered. These impulses may lead to destructive behavior including substance abuse, self-harm, and even suicidal urges.
Conclusion: BPD and Bipolar Are Not the Same
Bipolar and borderline personality disorders are not the same. While they both cause mood swings and impulsive behavior, the changes in moods are triggered differently.
Individuals suffering from bipolar often experience alternating periods of mania and depression while BPD sufferers experience erratic mood changes. The self-destructive behavior that some BPD sufferers exhibit is often caused by a trigger, either from a traumatic event or social interaction.
The bipolar mood swings often seem to change randomly. Individuals may experience a manic state for days before suddenly crashing and becoming depressed.
These conditions also require different treatments. Bipolar disorder is treated primarily with medication to help stabilize moods. Psychotherapy is used as a secondary approach to help patients develop coping techniques for dealing with their mood swings.
Borderline personality disorder is treated primarily with psychotherapy to help address the root causes of the condition. Medications may be used as a secondary method for dealing with some of the side symptoms, such as anxiety or depression.
In the end, it is important to seek treatment for either condition. Both bipolar and borderline personality disorders are often treatable and manageable with professional medical care.
The exact causes of these conditions remain unknown. With treatment, patients may enjoy productive lives. The first step in treating one of these disorders is contacting a mental health professional and scheduling an evaluation.