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Family Guidance Blog

Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder: The Similarities and the Differences

Though Bipolar Disorder is Better Known, Borderline Personality Disorder Occurs Nearly as Often

bipolar disorderBipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder are two different mental illnesses that often get confused with one another. They do share some similarities yet they are also very different diseases. Bipolar disorder is more well-known, but both occur with similar frequency.

A study conducted at Rhode Island Hospital performed personal interviews with 307 patients with diagnosed borderline personality disorder but no bipolar disorder and 236 patients with bipolar disorder alone. Researchers wondered about the morbidity (how often something occurs) of people affected as well as of specific symptoms. In other words, how many people experience each disorder and with what symptoms and what frequency of symptoms?

What Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder Have in Common

Researchers found that approximately the same number of people were affected by each disorder. This is in contrast with currently accepted data which suggests that bipolar disorder occurs around twice as often as borderline personality disorder. Patients with both disorders had alarmingly high morbidity rates for suicidal ideas or attempts. They also looked much the same in terms of psychiatric hospital admission and amount of time missed from work.

What’s the Difference

There were notable differences, however between the two mental illnesses. Those with borderline personality disorder were found to have more co-existing (comorbid) disorders, more social struggles and more substance abuse and tested poorer in reference to general functioning.

Borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder are both mental health illnesses that can affect you or those you love with symptoms that can be debilitating without treatement. At Family Guidance Center we have experience in treatment for both mental health diagnoses and can help you with a treatment plan that is specific to your disease. Our mental health professionals can work together with your healthcare team to provide integrated and comprehensive treatment to help you lead a healthier happy life.

Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder: Similar Yet Not the Same

Understanding What Separates Bipolar Disorder From a Personality Disorder

bipolar disorderSometimes two things can look quite similar when, in fact, they are quite distinct. In the case of mental illness, some conditions share enough symptoms that one may easily be mistaken for another without enough data to inform the diagnosis. Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as depression since it is the depressive symptoms which usually attract attention. But even once the variances of mood are taken into account, bipolar disorder can also be mistaken for another condition with shifting emotions. Bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder may seem similar, yet they are not the same.

Bipolar Disorder

Like borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder is recognized by the extreme mood swings it produces. However, there are important points of differentiation in those mood swings. In bipolar disorder, the mood swings are typically uncaused by any outside circumstance. Emotions tend to swing from very high to very low. The high, or mania, brings euphoric feelings of greatness, energy and ability. At the opposite pole are long stretches of depression characterized by lack of energy, no motivation and feelings to near-total incapacity. These swings are often interrupted by significant breaks during which the person experiences moderate emotion and behavior.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

The person with borderline personality disorder has trouble keeping emotions under control. But unlike bipolar disorder in which mood shifts occur inexplicably, the person with BPD usually experiences emotional flares as the result of a relationship trigger. The person with BPD may regularly have bouts of anger, not just during certain phases of their illness. BPD is further characterized by a fear of being abandoned which creates an unhappy cycle since unsteady emotions often hurt relationships.

At Family Guidance Center we have experience helping people with illnesses where symptoms overlap. We realize how much conditions such as BPD and bipolar disorder interfere with daily living – and we can help. Contact us today.

Bipolar Disorder During the Teen Years

Recognizing the Possible Signs of Bipolar Disorder in Your Adolescent

bipolar disorderThe teenage years are emotional for many families. But for some adolescents, the emotional highs and lows are even more extreme. That’s because while bipolar disorder tends to manifest in early adulthood, it can appear during the teen years. It’s important for families to recognize the signs of bipolar in order to differentiate between that and normal teen angst.

Bipolar disorder can show up anywhere, but it does appear to run in families. When a parent (or parents) has bipolar disorder, the chances of a child also developing the condition are five to 10 percent higher than for kids with no family history of the illness. Genetics is the first risk factor of which to be aware.

Beyond family history, there would be other signs that your teen is dealing with something beyond normal adolescent emotions. Bipolar disorder is so named because of the emotional swings from one mood extreme to the other. It is frequently the case that only the depressive cycle gets noticed, but there are two distinct phases.


The depressive phase shares the same symptoms as mild-major depression: changed sleep, changed appetite, lack of interest in things once enjoyed, persistent sadness and trouble focusing.


The opposite pole from depression is called mania. During mania your teen may seem inexplicably giddy or silly. They may express feelings of exalted self-perception, seem to have boundless energy with little need for sleep or engage in risk-taking behaviors. Extreme talkativeness is another sign, as is being highly irritable.

If you suspect that your teen may be experiencing these extreme highs and lows, they could be experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder. Family Guidance Center is here to help you and your teen. Give us a call and learn how we can help.

How Can You Support a Loved One With Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder 2Bipolar disorder is an illness that touches everyone around the person with the condition. When someone close to you is living with bipolar disorder it can be tough to know how to respond to many situations.

Your heart understands that the illness drives much of the behavior you see. At the same time, it is easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed. So how can you support your loved one without giving up necessary boundaries?

1. Become informed. Learn all you can about bipolar disorder including the treatments available.

2. Be a good listener. Although your loved one’s emotional swings may sometimes be extreme, not all of their feelings are symptoms of their illness. Avoid disregarding their perspective before giving it fair consideration.

3. Be alert to emotional shifts. It can often be the case that you will be the first to notice an emotional change in your loved one – even before they recognize it themselves. You never want to come across as intrusive, but the sooner episodes are identified, the easier they are to treat. Talk with your loved one in advance about how to let them know when you see a shift occurring.

4. Be available to help. Ask your loved one what you can do to lighten the load during times when they feel overwhelmed. Your readiness to step in will communicate love and support.

Sometimes, your help may come in the form of encouraging the person to stick with treatment. You may need to drive them to counseling or doctor appointments or a check up to be sure that they are faithful with therapy. Try not to let them isolate themselves, but stay engaged with them in fun ways as well as keeping an eye on treatment.

You and your loved one need support. Family Guidance offers support to those with bipolar disorder as well as to the loved ones living with and caring for them. You can be a support to them. Let us support you.

Bipolar Disorder and the Holidays

Bipolar Disorder 2The months of November and December make many demands on everyone. There are more social obligations, more stressors, more late nights and more perceived expectations. It can be enough to turn anyone’s season of joy into a difficult season, but if you are living with bipolar disorder, the stakes are especially high. Does having bipolar disorder mean you can’t participate in things like parties, performances, shopping excursions and family gatherings? Of course not. You do, however, want to think ahead and be prepared.

1. Stay on Schedule
You already know that one of your greatest tools for symptom management is adhering to a regular schedule. The holiday season can play havoc with schedules, but you will need to work extra hard to stick to yours. If you go without normal sleep even one night, you could experience a mood swing. The same goes for staying on schedule with your medication – don’t allow busyness to interrupt your medication routine.

2. Avoid Alcoholic Beverages
Alcohol is often in abundance around holiday time. However, it is just as dangerous for you at Christmas as it is any other time of year. It could interfere with your medication; it could disrupt your sleep; or it could lead to mood swings.

3. Be Aware of Limits
If overspending has been a past symptom of mania for you, then Christmas could be an extended period of temptation. Find a way to keep a check on your spending before it gets out-of-control.

4. Do Some Things More
While you want to do fewer late nights, less spending and avoid alcohol, there are things you should increase. See your doctor more often this season to be sure you are doing well. Shop earlier in the year to avoid Christmas buying pressure. Spend extra time exercising and taking care of yourself.

At Family Guidance Center we understand the tension of holiday pressures and bipolar disorder. Call us today and set up some regular times to meet with a mental health professional to help you keep life in balance when everything around you is tempting you to go overboard. We understand and we can help.