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Bipolar Disorder & Borderline Personality Disorder: What are the Differences?

World Bipolar Day

March 30 – World Bipolar Day

Diagnosing mental illnesses can be challenging as there is usually no way to physically measure or run lab tests that can help determine one diagnosis from another. Helping an individual find the best treatment options for their unique condition also poses a challenge. Mental health professionals depend on symptoms and the pattern these symptoms show over time to make their diagnosis. On March 30th, we recognize World Bipolar Day. Bipolar disorder is commonly confused or even misdiagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder. Let’s take a look at the differences and similarities: 

Similar Symptoms

More often, borderline personality disorder is misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder. Both conditions have symptoms that mirror each other, such as mood swings, impulsive behaviour, and suicidal thoughts. However, the conditions have different causes and different treatment options. Experience medical professionals can determine the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment for each individual. Patients and their family members can assist in this process by making note of the symptoms, describing them accurately, and monitoring them over time. 

Key Differences

The key difference between bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder is the category into which each falls into. Bipolar disorder is categorized as a mood disorder while borderline personality disorder is a personality disorder. Personality disorders are characterized by long-term patterns. These patterns may include feelings, thoughts, or behaviors that make it challenging for the person to function daily. Challenges often affect interpersonal relationships and create intense reactions to external events or conflicts. Narcissism and paranoia both play a major part in many personality disorders. 

In contrast, mood disorders cause drastic changes in mood that may appear randomly or suddenly. The most common mood disorder is depression. Bipolar disorder is also referred to as manic depression. The condition causes extreme mood swings with alternating periods of mania and depression. During the period of mania, the individual may have large bursts of mental and/or physical energy, racing thoughts, high levels of irritability or happiness, and may engage in impulsive or risky behaviors. Depressive periods often are characterized by persistent sadness, low levels of energy, changes in sleep or appetite, or recurrent thoughts of suicide. Many individuals have periods of stability between their manic and depressive periods. 

Bipolar disorder is thought to be caused by brain structure and chemistry. The condition is generally responsive to medications and therapy to manage symptoms. Borderline personality disorder can often resemble bipolar disorder, but the primary difference is that patterns of unstable mood and behaviors are long-term and persistent rather than cyclical. Those who suffer from borderline personality disorder often react intensely and tend to be more sensitive, with difficulty controlling their emotions and to react appropriately. 

Borderline personality disorder is not biological like bipolar disorder. Medication is often not the primary treatment, but instead the disorder is managed through psychotherapy or therapy combined with medication to treat specific symptoms. 

While the two conditions appear similar, the patterns of symptoms and behaviors are important to note. Those with borderline personality disorder are rarely stable and tend to have chaotic interpersonal relationships long-term. When not in a manic or depressive period, individuals with bipolar disorder generally function extremely well. While both conditions can be successfully treated, the treatment options vary. Successful treatment is dependent on a proper diagnosis and long-term planning. 

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