Many mental health disorders have similar symptoms. It is important, especially during Mental Health Awareness Month, to understand the differences in the way certain disorders can impact an individual as well as those around them. There are many misunderstandings about the similarities and differences between borderline personality disorder vs bipolar disorder.
Mood Disorder vs Personality Disorder
Although mental illness may seem to have the same roots and appearance, there are significant differences. The question of borderline personality vs bipolar disorder is a question of mood disorder vs personality disorder.
Bipolar disorder is categorized as a mood disorder, as the individual will experience changes in mood, sometimes drastically. There will be episodes of depression and of mania. The extremely energetic and excited mood, mania, may cause the individual to lose touch with reality. On the other end of the mood spectrum, the extremely sad mood, depression, may leave the individual feeling exhausted. There may even be times between the mood extremes during which the individual feels relatively stable.
Borderline personality disorder, however, is a personality disorder which involves patterns of behavior and thinking that affect the individual’s life. Often, a person with borderline personality disorder will exhibit an insecure attachment style, as they may have a difficult time trusting other people to stay with them in their relationship. An individual’s emotions and often even their identity depend on their relationships with others.
It is common to confuse the mental health conditions of borderline personality disorder vs bipolar disorder, as they can look similar. Dr. Ken Duckworth, the chief medical officer at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), explains that both illnesses can present with intense emotions, impulsive behavior, and suicidal thinking. However, Dr. Duckworth says, it is how these symptoms present over time that can make the difference in the diagnosis.
Questions for Distinguishing Borderline Personality Disorder vs Bipolar
Dr. Duckworth suggests asking some key questions to be able to tell the difference between borderline personality disorder vs bipolar disorder.
How often do the individual’s moods change?
A person with borderline personality disorder usually has persistent day-to-day emotional symptoms that can impact their daily life. Their mood changes are short-lived, more persistent, and are reactive to factors in their environment such as work or home stresses. An individual with bipolar disorder will experience switches from depression to mania in cycles. They may have no symptoms between cycles, feeling mentally well.
Is their sleep normal?
An early indicator of bipolar disorder is a change in sleeping habits. The individual may stay awake for days with no feelings of fatigue or they may sleep for several days in a row. Sleep patterns are typically not impacted by borderline personality disorder.
Do they have a family history?
Mood disorders tend to run in families, although they are not passed on by a specific gene. A family history of mood disorders, however, can increase the chance that a mood disorder will appear in an individual.
Are their relationships often unstable?
People with borderline personality disorder tend to have intense relationships that are troubled by conflict. They will have a history of these intense relationships and many of their experiences with the inability to manage their emotional responses will emerge from responses to relationship interactions.
Are they showing signs of self-harm?
Self-harm actions such as cutting are more common in people with borderline personality disorder. They are thought to be a way to help the individual with regulating their emotions. Dr. Duckworth points out that 75% of individuals with the disorder have injured, hit, burned, or cut themselves.
Observation and Understanding
An awareness of the differences between borderline personality disorder vs bipolar disorder comes out of an understanding of how each of these mental health issues affect individuals. While there is no specific test for each disorder, a lot can be learned from observing their actions and their struggles.
Most importantly, both mental health disorders can be treated. When a correct diagnosis is reached, there are a number of options for the individual to get the help they need so they can lead a full and healthy life.
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