Last updated on April 30, 2019
Across America, every day over 5 million people deal with the effects of bipolar disorder. Likewise, over 3 million people are diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, despite the prevalence of these illnesses, many people still get the two confused.
While there are some similarities when considering bipolar vs schizophrenia, these two disorders have distinct differences and shouldn’t be confused.
If you suspect that you or someone you love might be dealing with either one of these mental illnesses, keep reading. We’re going to break down what their differences are, how they’re similar, and what you should do if you suspect that someone in your life might be dealing with them.
The first thing we’re going to look at are the signs and symptoms of both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. You’ll notice that there are a couple of places where these signs overlap, which is why many people wind up mixing up the two disorders
The Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is characterized by huge changes, or swings, in mood. These mood swings are often severe and long lasting and they can make living a normal life difficult.
These moods consist of two main phases: mania and depression.
Mania looks a lot like extreme happiness and a surge of energy. And while this might seem fine to someone without the disorder, a person with bipolar going through mania experiences these things in a severe, extreme way.
Someone going through mania might also seem more irritable or easily set off. They’ll likely have a plethora of ideas, some better than others. It’s also common for someone in deep mania to stop eating or sleeping.
They’ll probably also seem jittery or jumpy.
However, mania is best described as a period in the person’s life when they feel like they can and should do anything, no matter how impossible it might be to someone on the outside.
Once the person with bipolar disorder starts to fall out of their mania phase, they will hit a period of depression. While many of us have experience dealing with depression ourselves, the depression that a person with this disorder experiences is extreme, just like the mania is.
They will feel hopeless, sad, empty, and worried. It will probably seem like nothing anyone can do will bring them any relief from these symptoms. Suicidal thoughts are a common occurrence among people with bipolar disorder.
The Symptoms of Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia looks much different than bipolar disorder does.
Someone with schizophrenia might experience hallucinations or delusions, like voices or people who aren’t there or that someone or something is out to get them.
Someone with schizophrenia has disconnected, confused thinking. It’s hard for them to stay focused on a task for a long period of time.
On the outside, it will become clear to someone else when the person with schizophrenia begins to experience these symptoms. As their thoughts begin to jumble, so do their speech patterns and behaviors.
Over time, a person with schizophrenia might stop leaving their house, taking care of their personal hygiene, or showing emotion. These symptoms will continue to get worse as time goes on until they get the help they need.
The Risk Factors
As with most mental illness, the cause of these disorders is unknown. But there are a few things that might make it easier for a person to develop these issues, known as risk factors.
Some of the risk factors for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are a predisposition to the disorder that is baked into the person’s brain chemistry. Unfortunately, sometimes our brains are just wired differently and problems develop.
Bipolar disorder can also be triggered by an intense event, like the death of a loved one or an accident.
Schizophrenia has a few different risk factors as well. Taking mind-altering drugs at a young age can cause disturbances in brain development that can lead to schizophrenia.
For both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, there is no tried and true test that will determine if someone has them. With both disorders, a doctor will go through a number of different exams and ask questions about personal and family medical history.
These disorders can be difficult to diagnose, so there may be more than one appointment. Doctors might ask the patient to keep logs that record their moods, emotions, and any symptoms they might be experiencing.
With both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the main treatment is therapy and medication. However, these therapies and medications are different for each illness.
Treatments for Bipolar Disorder
There are a number of important steps when it comes to treating bipolar disorder. The person with the disorder needs to learn about their different mood swings, what triggers them, what patterns to expect, and how to manage them in an effective way.
That education doesn’t stop with just the patient, either. It’s important to teach their loved ones about the disorder so they can support and understand them as well.
On top of the therapies, there are antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, and antidepressants that the doctor can prescribe to manage the symptoms.
Treatments for Schizophrenia
The therapies associated with schizophrenia are a little different than those associated with bipolar disorder. Someone with schizophrenia may benefit more from cognitive behavioral therapy.
There are a wide variety of different antipsychotics that a doctor might prescribe as well, and it’s normal to have to change them around at first until the doctor finds the right dose and medication that works for each individual patient.
Bipolar vs Schizophrenia: What Should You Do?
While schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are life-altering disorders to have, there are plenty of treatments out there that can make life a little easier. If you suspect that someone you love may be dealing with one of these disorders, the first thing you should do is let them know that you’re there for them and that you’ll be a stable support system for them as they try to navigate through a difficult time.
People with these disorders also have an increased risk for suicide, so it’s important to have a plan in place in case thoughts like these arise.
Make sure that your loved one sticks to their treatment plan and keep yourself around as someone that they can depend on, should they need it.
The Next Steps
When looking at the signs and symptoms of someone with bipolar vs schizophrenia, it’s easy to see where the confusion could come into play. While on the inside, on a chemical level, it’s clear how different these disorders are. But to the untrained eye on the outside, it can be easy to get the two confused.
If you suspect that someone you love might be in the midst of dealing with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, you’re not alone. Contact us today to talk about what the next steps in getting help are.