I love the fact that people are a lot more open to talking about mental health and mental illness nowadays. Of course with the open conversation, people feel more comfortable using certain vocabulary or buzzwords, to describe feelings, behaviours or personalities.
Today I want to talk about a couple of the ones I have heard most often: bipolar and borderline. Specifically, people use the term bipolar most often, but when I ask what they mean, it turns out they were describing borderline personality disorder, so it made sense to me to put them together in this post.
So here we go…
The main difference is that bipolar is a mental illness, a mood disorder while borderline is a personality disorder.
Bipolar: It is a mood disorder that involves the combination of depressive states and episodes of mania. Depression, as we all know, is characterized by extreme sadness, feelings of guilt, worthlessness and helplessness (more here); and mania (which is less known) is a state in which the person experiences unfounded elation, irritability and hyperactivity, talkativeness, a flight of ideas, distractibility and impractical grandiose plans. So basically a person with bipolar disorder could be experiencing a depression (mild or deep) and within days/weeks, he/she could be full of energy and spending their life savings on a business plan that would be otherwise considered too risky or impractical.
Bipolar disorder IS NOT sudden changes of opinion, unpredictable mood swings or incapability to have stable relationships.
Borderline: It is a personality disorder. A person with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can be impulsive, and experience instability in relationships, mood and self-image. Their attitudes and feelings towards others (and themselves) can vary considerably and inexplicably over a short period of time. Emotions are erratic and can shift suddenly from passion to contemptuous anger. So, basically, individuals with BPD can love you with passion today and not be able to stand you tomorrow, for no apparent reason. If we were to put it in one sentence, this one that I heard a while ago summarizes it perfectly: “BPD is love with no measure and hate for no reason”.
People struggling with BPD are argumentative, quick to take offense and irritable. They can be quite hard to live with. People with BPD can also struggle with addictions, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts (in the same way they can feel strong feelings of hate for someone else, they can feel it for themselves)
Of course, there is a lot of help and treatment available. By accessing therapy or medication, or a combination of both, people can lead regular lives with both bipolar and BPD.
If you have a family member or close friend suffering from BPD or Bipolar disorder, please be compassionate, and patient (with them and with yourself). Keep in mind that being the caregiver of someone with a mental illness or personality disorder can be overwhelming, challenging, and it can feel draining. You also could get help through support groups, community services and therapy of course.
For the rest of us, and for the sake of those who suffer from mental illnesses, I would request PLEASE, do not use these terms as adjectives to describe behaviours that you just do not understand or agree with. Let’s be responsible for the way we use them. Both these terms are unfortunately and mistakenly used interchangeably… so now you know!!