Bipolar vs. BPD: Why are these Disorders Frequently Confused with One Another?

An Annapolis Psychiatrist Breaks Down the Differences Between Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorders

Discussing mental health with anyone can feel like you’re walking a tightrope. Not only is it difficult to completely explain the symptoms you may be experiencing, but having a conversation with a loved one about their mental health can create a turbulent relationship. This issue becomes even more apparent when bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder are thrown into the mix.

Bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are not only difficult disorders to deal with, but they are difficult to discern and diagnose. That’s why an Annapolis psychiatrist is here to break down the difference between these disorders, allowing you to gain a more insightful understanding of these mental health issues.

Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and More

Everything You Need to Know About Bipolar Disorder from an Annapolis Psychiatrist

one orange head one black head

Bipolar Disorder is a type of mood disorder that affects a person’s mood, energy, thoughts, activity levels, and overall functionality. Bipolar disorder occurs in cycles, each of which can last for days to months at a time. These cycles are typically classified as one of three stages:

  • Manias (highs): heightened mood, feelings of invincibility, grandiose ideas, reckless behavior, irritability, impulsive behavior, racing thoughts
  • Depressions (lows): lowered mood, social withdrawal, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, prolonged periods of sadness, detachment from hobbies and friends, constant fatigue
  • Stable Mood: ‘normalcy’ that can occur as an interval between highs and lows

It’s important to note that bipolar disorder is different from the way in which it is often used colloquially. Being ‘bipolar’ does not just mean that someone has a turbulent mood. The disorder affects an estimated 2.6% of the US population, making it significantly more common that borderline personality disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and More

Everything You Need to Know About BPD from an Annapolis Psychiatrist

woman smiling next to a mirror with a stressed out woman

Borderline personality disorder, often referred to as BPD, is a personality disorder that causes ongoing cycles of varying self-image, moods, and behaviors. Different from a mood disorder, a personality disorder involves a pattern of thought, belief and behavior that differ from the norm and are intrusive on an everyday basis. Some symptoms of BPD, according to Medical News Today, include:

  • uncertainty about one’s role in the world
  • frequently changing interests and values
  • a tendency to view things as either all good or all bad
  • changing opinions about others quickly, e.g., perceiving someone as a friend one day and an enemy the next
  • a pattern of unstable, intense relationships with family and friends, for whom feelings alternate between closeness and love to hate and anger
  • unstable, distorted self-image or sense of self
  • attempts to avoid imagined or real sources of abandonment, e.g., stopping communications with someone in anticipation of them cutting off ties
  • self-harming behaviors, such as cutting, burning, or overdosing
  • difficulty trusting people, sometimes because of an irrational fear of their intentions
  • feelings of dissociation, such as feeling unreal, having a sense of being cut off from one’s body, and seeing oneself from outside the body
  • recurring thoughts of suicide
  • impulsive or reckless behavior, such as unsafe sex, drug misuse, reckless driving, and spending sprees
  • intense episodes of depression, anger, and anxiety
  • chronic feelings of emptiness
  • fear of being alone

It’s clear that these behaviors are much more complex than Bipolar Disorder. Additionally, Borderline Personality DIsorder is known to seriously impact a person’s life and relationships due to the behaviors that result from this extreme level of self-doubt. It is estimated that about 1.4% of US adults have BPD.

Why are Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorders Commonly Confused?

Shared Symptoms Make Proper Diagnosis Difficult

distressed woman against a wall

Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorders are commonly confused among the public and the medical community for a number of reasons. The primary reason for this is a number of shared/similar symptoms, including intense emotional responses, depression, and impulsive behavior, and suicidal behaviors.

Essentially, the appearance these symptoms can raise red flags for patients and physicians, meaning the best way to discern the disorders is to evaluate patients holistically—noting where the line exists between a complete diagnosis and a diagnosis with additional tendencies.

Additionally, Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorders are often diagnosed together, making it even more difficult to diagnose. According to a review on the relationship between BPD and bipolar disorder, about 20 percent of people with type 2 bipolar disorder receive a BPD diagnosis. For people with type 1 bipolar disorder, about 10 percent receive a BPD diagnosis. Some even believe that BPD is on the bipolar spectrum, but the general consensus is that they are two unique disorders.

Want to talk to an Annapolis Psychiatrist about your concerns about bipolar and borderline personality disorders? Contact Psych Associates of Maryland today to schedule an appointment.


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