Nearly 20% of U.S. adults live with some type of mental illness. Some people prefer to deal with less severe conditions on their own, but many mental health disorders significantly impact daily life. Two conditions drastically affecting life are borderline personality disorder (BPD) and bipolar disorder (BD). The causes, symptoms, and treatment for borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder differ greatly.

While both conditions can have periods of calm, the more intense symptoms can be very damaging. Symptoms of both conditions can present as very similar, and it’s essential to differentiate between them. We break down the conditions and how to distinguish between the two. If you think that you or someone you know may be dealing with borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder (BD), or both, learn how to get help.


BPD and BD are easily confused if only observing someone for a short time. That’s because they both present with swinging moods. If you pay close attention, the way the moods change is very different, as well as the cause of the change.

Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

BPD symptoms are changing moods, but primarily in a negative way. People with BPD suddenly experience significant distress brought on by a small trigger. The mood swing may be powerful but only last a few hours or a day. The emotional trigger could be internal or external. For example, sudden distress could be triggered by one’s feelings about their body image. Or an external factor, such as an argument, could cause people with BPD to spiral drastically.

It is not uncommon for those with BPD to try to cope with sudden overwhelming feelings in unhealthy or dangerous ways. Self-harm is not an uncommon coping mechanism.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, on the other hand, presents as dramatic highs and lows. Low periods present as typical depression. But the highs, called “mania,” aren’t usually present in people with BPD.

Mania, at first, may sound better than depressive states, but the incredible high can lead to a lack of awareness or recklessness to the point of endangerment. Its intensity can exhaust relationships.

Between depressive and manic states, people with BD may also have a stable mood for some time. Bipolar 2 is a variant of BD. It presents full depressive states, but the manic states are less extreme. In either case, each of these states can last for days or weeks at a time. And the two states can mimic symptoms of other disorders, such as OCD.

Notably, the highs and lows are not brought on by an external trigger. The timing of mood changes is entirely outside of an individual’s control.


The triggers for mood changes in each of these disorders are very different. That’s because the two conditions have different causes.

Causes of Borderline Personality Disorder

What is a borderline personality disorder? As the name suggests, it stems from an individual’s personality or personal psychology. It is not a biological condition. Psychological issues can have a genetic component. One could be predisposed to developing the disorder because of their genetic makeup.

In many cases, it is a combination of genetics and life experiences. Developmental issues, such as attachment issues with parental figures, can lead to a very insecure sense of self, manifesting as emotional instability. Other than developmental issues, trauma could lead to this emotional vulnerability. Abuse, for example, can lead to emotional dysregulation. A combination of factors causes BPD, but it is ultimately psychological, based on reactions to life experiences.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

BD, on the other hand, is biological. Imbalanced brain chemistry causes varying emotional states. This is not due to life events or past experiences but entirely the brain’s makeup. As this is a biological condition, it, of course, has a genetic component. BD and similar conditions can run in families.


Treatments differ greatly because one of these conditions is psychological and the other biological. Access to the correct treatment is one of the most important reasons to distinguish between the disorders.

Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder

BPD is psychological. There is no imbalance in brain chemistry that medication can treat. If psychiatrists offer any medication, it will be to manage symptoms. For example, one of the states of distress may be extreme anxiety, which can be medicated. To treat the cause of the disorder, psychotherapy is the preferred route. That way, treatment tackles the root of the problem, not just the emoted symptoms. Several types of psychotherapy can treat BPD, but the underlying goal is always to help them learn how to cope with strong emotions or impulses.

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

As BD is biological, medication tackles the cause of the problem. Several types of drugs work on balancing brain chemistry. They all aim to level depressive and manic states to stable ones.

Bipolar treatment can also involve therapy. This is employed to tackle the disorder’s symptoms – the reverse of BPD. Therapy sessions teach coping mechanisms to manage behavior during the highs and lows.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Help

Seeking help can make a massive difference for whichever condition someone is suffering. Treatment for borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder massively reduces how much the conditions affect daily life. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you think you or a loved one may be struggling with either of these disorders. Speaking to professionals is the first step to taking back control.

Call us today for an open conversation. We’re here to help you get the treatment you or your loved one needs. Contact us to learn more about treatment options available in South Florida.