Do I Have Bipolar Disorder or Borderline Disorder?

By Randi Kreger, author of Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder and The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder: New Tools and Techniques to Stop Walking on Eggshells.

Bipolar... Borderline... just the names alone can be confusing. They even sound similar. But Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Disorder are completely different diagnoses; the first is a mood disorder while the second is a personality disorder. But that doesn’t prevent clinicians from mixing them up, often because they don’t know the right questions to ask.

Confusion is commonplace, and it’s a serious matter. Without the right diagnosis, you or your family member will get the wrong treatment and probably won’t get better. (Note: a person can have both. But that’s another topic for another day.)

Following are the three big differences between Bipolar and Borderline Disorders.

1. Borderline moods are tied to an event. Bipolar moods usually aren’t.

Robert (Borderline): Rob was deeply depressed. The woman he was dating, Julie, hadn’t returned his text in three hours. He called her at work and left a message. Then another. This was torture.

Annie (Bipolar): Annie was also deeply depressed. Everything was black. She had had six good months, but the “black dog” was back again, and she didn’t know why. She pulled the covers over her head and started to cry. Going to work was out of the question.

2. With Borderline, all emotions go up and down. With Bipolar, a person cycles between depression and “mania” (with some stable times in between).

With mania, a person has a lot of energy and they can get a lot done. Their thoughts race and they talk very fast, jumping from one topic to another. Other signs include euphoria (extreme happiness), irritability, being easily distracted, not needing sleep, and poor judgment.

Robert (Borderline): Four hours had now gone by, and no text from Julie. He felt anxious, fearful, worried, disappointed, rejected, and abandoned. Then he started getting angry. He didn’t deserve to be treated like this!

Annie (Bipolar): Last week, in one 24-hour period Annie had worked 12 hours, cleaned the house from top to bottom, wrote a 10-page paper, brainstormed six solutions to climate change, and had gone partying all night. Today, she would try to eat.

3. With Borderline, moods can change up and down right away. With Bipolar, cycles of depression and mania take months or years.

Robert (Borderline) At last, thank God, his phone binged, the telltale sign of a text. It was Julie!

I’ve been in a meeting for hours, so tired. Boss loved my ideas! Let’s celebrate. What’s up?

Happiness and relief flooded him and burned off the anxiety and all the other negative feelings. But he also felt embarrassed. He hoped his phone messages didn’t sound too desperate.

Before diagnosing yourself, seek help from a mental health professional familiar with both disorders.


Julie A, Fast, best-selling author, mental health trainer, and coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. She is also the author of Take Charge of Bipolar and Loving Someone With Borderline Disorder.

Robert O. Friedel, M.D., author of Borderline Personality Disorder Demystified,

Anxiety and Depression Association of America,