Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are mental diseases. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, while schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder (a severe mental disorder that causes abnormal thinking and perceptions and results in loss of touch with reality). However, differentiating between these disorders may cause some difficulties due to similarity of some symptoms and treatments. Thus, only psychiatrist can make the diagnosis.
Depression is the most common symptom overlap of the illnesses. Patients of both the diseases experience depressive periods. These periods are characterized by loss of energy, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and sadness, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, negative thoughts, thoughts or even attempts of suicide (Schimelpfening). The most significant difference between these two disorders is that patients with bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression) experience states of depression and mania, while patients with schizophrenia are depressive most of the time. People with bipolar disorder often describe their lives as “being on an emotional roller coaster” because they experience alternating “lows” (depression) and “highs” (“mania“) (Bressert). The periods of mania and depression range from person to person. Both periods can be brief, from a few hours to a few days, or long, lasting up to several weeks or months. Thus, many people may not even be aware that they have bipolar disorder. A manic episode is characterized by exaggerated positive outlook, hyperactivity, loss of appetite, little need for sleep, racing thoughts, which may lead to rapid speech, and aggressive behavior. Sometimes a person with severe episode of mania has psychotic symptoms too, such as hallucinations or delusions (“Bipolar Disorder.”). For example, such patient believes that he or she is famous or has special powers. As a result, people with bipolar disorder that have psychotic symptoms maybe wrongly diagnosed as having schizophrenia. It is important to note that hallucinations of people with bipolar disorder are much more expressive, while schizophrenic patients are most likely to have paranoiac hallucinations or prominent delusional thoughts about persecution or conspiracy.
The causes of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as well as other mental illnesses, are not completely understood at this time. Genetic, neurochemical and environmental factors interact at many levels and may result in the onset of these disorders. Scientists have long known that both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder run in families. Schizophrenia occurs in 10 percent of people who have a parent or a sibling with the disorder. For identical twins the risk is even higher. They have a 40 to 65 percent chance of having the condition (Smith). A person who has one parent with bipolar disorder has a 15 to 25 percent chance of developing the disorder (Bressert).
Some studies show that both the disorders are of biological nature. Dysfunction of certain neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, plays a role in these illnesses. Brains of people with schizophrenia look different than those of healthy people, they tend to have less gray matter, and some areas of the brain have less or more activity (“Schizophrenia.”). As well as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder may lie dormant and be activated on its own or triggered by external factors such as psychological stress and social circumstances. It is also interesting to note that both the illnesses start in early adulthood - usually in a person's early 20s.
Because the causes of these diseases are still unknown, they are not curable, but treatments make the diseases more tolerable for the patients. Treatments for the diseases usually include medication and psychotherapy. Since bipolar disorder patients have issues with mood, mood-stabilizing medications (such as lithium) are most commonly prescribed. Though for relieving symptoms of severe mania or psychosis atypical (or second generation) antipsychotic medications are used. For treating symptoms of depression in bipolar disorder antidepressant medications are sometimes used (“What is bipolar disorder?..”). But such patients should take a mood stabilizer too in order to prevent risk of switching to mania. When medication does not work, electroconvulsive therapy (formerly known as "shock therapy”) may be useful. Schizophrenic patients mainly use antipsychotic medications though antidepressant medication is often required (Grohol). Psychotherapy is a treatment used for both diseases. It helps patients and their families to deal with the everyday challenges of the illness, provides support, education, and guidance.
Taking everything into consideration, I would like to emphasize the following ideas. To make a precise diagnosis it is important to interview the patient and his or her family, paying special attention to depressive and maniac patterns, because most bipolar patients tend not to complain of having mania, when they feel “high”. Moreover, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system can be used, since brains of patients with bipolar disorder have very little differences for gray matter volume of healthy people’s brains. For successful treating of these disorders it is crucial to take the medication regularly, get psychological help and family support. Unfortunately patients with schizophrenia are more likely to go off of medications and develop severe symptoms. Unlike these patients those who suffer from bipolar disorder and take medications can lead normal and even successful lives.
“Bipolar Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. n.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.
Bressert, Steve. “An Introduction to Bipolar Disorder.” Psychcentral. n.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.
“Grohol, John. “Schizophrenia Treatment.” Psychcentral. n.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2014
Schimelpfening, Nancy. “Major Depressive Disorder.” About.com. n.p., 18 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.
Schizophrenia.” National Institute of Mental Health. n.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.
Smith, Brian. “What Causes Schizophrenia?” Psychcentral. n.p., n.d. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.
“What is bipolar disorder? What causes bipolar disorder?” MNT. n.p., 16 Aug. 2012. Web. 22 Mar. 2014.