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For those unaware of mental health diagnoses, the conditions of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are often used interchangeably. This is understandable for those uninformed, but when one of these disorders is either self-misdiagnosed or professionally misdiagnosed, there can be significant consequences.

For the best treatment and recovery, a proper diagnosis of bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder must take place. Here at The Phoenix Recovery Center, we not only understand this crucial distinction, but we also have the individualized, evidence-based approach to treat either illness once a responsible and professional assessment and diagnosis has occurred.

What Exactly Is Bipolar Disorder?

Before we get into the critical distinctions between bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, let us first gain a strong understanding of what each illness is. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental illness that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” However, it should also be noted that bipolar disorder is not a unified diagnosis. 

It is but an umbrella term for three types of bipolar disorder.

#1. Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I disorder is generally the disorder that people envision when they hear the overarching term “bipolar disorder.” It is primarily defined by manic episodes that last a minimum of seven days and episodes of depression that generally last a minimum of two weeks. 

#2. Bipolar II Disorder 

Bipolar II disorder, also known as bipolar affective disorder, has many similarities to bipolar I disorder. However, these episodes of mania and depression are often less severe than bipolar I disorder, as well as tend to lean more heavily on the depressive side.

#3. Cyclothymic Disorder 

Cyclothymic disorder (also called cyclothymia) has both hypomanic and depressive episodes. Yet, they do not qualify as bipolar I or II because they are not as severe and do not fit the duration requirement.

What Exactly Is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Now that we have a foundational understanding of bipolar disorder, let us get better acquainted with borderline personality disorder. 

The National Institute of Mental Health defines borderline personality disorder as “a mental illness that severely impacts a person’s ability to regulate their emotions. This loss of emotional control can increase impulsivity, affect how a person feels about themselves, and negatively impact their relationships with others.”

One of the primary definers of BPD is that the individual tends to act recklessly or irrationally. They often experience an unhealthy, low level of self-esteem and experience relatively dramatic mood swings.

Now, with a better understanding of the foundation of these two disorders, let us differentiate them via their symptoms. This symptom comparison should better elucidate why thinking of these disorders interchangeably is both ill-advised and potentially dangerous.

Correcting the Confusion Between Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder 

One of the reasons that bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder get confused is that they sound alike. It is not something we are going to focus on here, but it is the nature of similar-sounding medical conditions. Don’t believe it? Think of the interchangeable use of “cardiac arrest” and ”heart attack,” “stroke” versus “aneurysm,” and “drug misuse” and “drug abuse.” All very different conditions, but often misused. It’s no one’s fault, but it is a reality. Below, we’ll dive into the symptoms of each disorder to help you understand the differences between them.

Manic Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Here are some of the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder on the manic side:

  • Experiencing periods of unexplained elation and irritability
  • Unable to sleep or “wind down” at reasonable times
  • Experiencing a heightened appetite for food, alcohol or substances, sex, or other pleasurable activities
  • Having “racing thoughts”
  • Experiencing delusions of grandeur 

Depressive Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Now, these are some of the symptoms of the depressive side of the disorder:

  • Feeling excessively sad or anxious
  • Feeling lethargic or unnecessarily lackadaisical 
  • Interrupted sleep patterns (either sleeping too much or too little)
  • Having thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Note that these are but a few of the symptoms of bipolar disorder. 

Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Now let us compare the symptoms of bipolar disorder to those of borderline personality disorder. The symptoms of BPD may include:

  • Living in “extremes,” such as irresponsibly starting or concluding relationships without warning
  • Instability with previously formed relationships, such as those with family or friends
  • Having a poor and unreasonable image of themselves
  • Exhibiting impulsive behaviors, such as substance abuse, overspending, and risky sexual behaviors
  • Experiencing dissociation, such as the feeling of watching oneself from an out-of-body perspective.

While these are not all of the symptoms of either disorder, you can begin to see that there is very little Venn diagrammatic crossover between the two disorders. Thus, they should neither be lumped in with one another nor misdiagnosed as one another.

While it is important to distinguish bipolar disorder and BPD, what is more important is that those affected by them get the proper care they need. Receiving Proper Care for Bipolar Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder CTA

At The Phoenix Recovery Center, we understand that there can be confusion when it comes to various diagnoses in the mental health field. When a patient first arrives at the Phoenix, we conduct a thorough professional analysis to make sure they have received a proper diagnosis. Our center also aims not only to help our clients to recover but to help the entire family understand the process from start to finish, including specific diagnosis information. Whether bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder, we have the individualized approach, tools, and resources to help you or a family member mitigate the symptoms. While there is no guaranteed cure for these disorders, there is a way to live a full, healthy, and well-balanced life after treatment. We are here to help. For more information, call The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185.

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT