Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are both mental health disorders that affect people from all walks of life. Mental disorders, however, come in many different forms, and sometimes people may mistake one disorder for another. This can be because of wrongful portrayals in media, a lack of mental health education, and a general stigma that prevents regular discussions about mental health. Some disorders that constantly get mistaken for each other are both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Both disorders are similar in that they have common risk factors associated with the development of said disorders. However, the specific symptoms associated with each disorder are very different and often do not cross between disorders. Education is the first step to destigmatizing anything, and we must do our best to understand these highly stigmatized and unique disorders.
Who Develops Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder
Both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are not very well understood, and we aren’t sure exactly what causes either of these disorders. With time and research, certain risk factors have made themselves known in who may be more likely to develop either of these disorders.
Some studies believe that some people have brains that are structured differently from other people. Our brains rely on a delicate balance of chemicals to regulate our moods and control our bodies. If these functions are interrupted, it keeps the brain from effectively doing its job. When someone has a brain that has a different structure than others, it may not function correctly. This may be a reason why some people develop bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, but more research is needed.
The same can be said with genetics. Genetics is the study of how we inherit traits from each other, passed along in our DNA. DNA is the building block of the body, and specific DNA strands responsible for parts of the body are called genes. Genes are often inherited from our parents and tell our body everything, from what color our eyes are to our height.
When genes do not work correctly, they cause genetic issues and diseases. There is no currently known singular gene responsible for either of these disorders, but it’s believed that the malfunction of several key genes is. People are more likely to develop either of these disorders if a close member of the family, such as a parent, grandparent, or sibling, has them.
Specifically for schizophrenia, the imbalance of the neurotransmitter dopamine has been identified as a main cause of this disorder. Most treatments for this disorder include medication that helps someone regulate their dopamine levels.
However, there is an environmental factor that may be responsible as well. Homes with high stress, the abuse of alcohol or drugs, brain injury, and experiencing traumatic events can all change brain chemistry. As discussed before, this brain chemistry is responsible for how we regulate our emotions and perceive the world. When something doesn’t function correctly, it can cause a mental health disorder.
The Symptoms of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder
Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder differ greatly in how their symptoms manifest. Both of these disorders can be broken down into more specific groups to help pinpoint the treatment they need. These can be broken down into the following.
Perhaps the most stigmatized out of the two disorders, schizophrenia is mostly known for its main symptom, which is psychosis. Psychosis affects how a person perceives reality and can include hallucinations, delusions, and distress. It’s important to note that this is not the only aspect of schizophrenia, nor is it unique to this disorder. Psychosis is a symptom of many other types of mental health disorders as well.
The main symptoms associated with schizophrenia are:
- Psychosis, including visual and auditory hallucinations and false beliefs not based on reality, known as delusions
- Erratic physical movements and disorganized speech
- Catatonic behavior
- Lack of motivation or minimal expression of mood
There are also several subtypes of schizophrenia. These are known as paranoid schizophrenia, catatonic schizophrenia, disorganized schizophrenia, residual schizophrenia, and undifferentiated schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is typically treated with the use of psychotherapy, the building of support networks, family education, and antipsychotic medication when needed.
This disorder is primarily associated with the inability to regulate mood or be subject to unusual mood changes. These periods of moods (known as episodes) can bounce between mania (elevated moods), hypomania (less severe elevated moods), and depression. Different types of bipolar disorder are categorized by how long these moods last and how frequently they change.
The main symptoms associated with bipolar disorder are:
- Mania: When someone is experiencing mania, they feel emotional highs such as euphoria, excitability, and impulsiveness. Manic episodes can include reckless and dangerous behaviors, such as drug use and engaging in unprotected sex. Mania makes it hard for someone to function and perform regularly at work or school.
- Hypomania: These are periods of elevated moods that are not as severe as mania. A person experiencing hypomania can usually still engage and perform socially but still have mood changes that are noticeable to others.
- Depression: During a depressive period, a person may experience a lack of energy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of or too much sleep, deep sadness, and a lack of interest in beloved activities.
There are three known types of bipolar disorder. These are known as bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia.
Bipolar disorder is typically treated using psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, family education, and anti-depressant/mood-stabilizing medication. In rare cases, antipsychotic medication can also be prescribed.
Furthering Our Understanding
Researchers are working night and day to unlock the secrets of mental health disorders. To do that, they need people to volunteer their valuable time and experiences to help further our understanding of how these disorders affect us. If you have schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, consider contributing to a clinical study or trial. Your experience might help save lives in the future.
When someone has a stigmatized mental health disorder—like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia—it’s hard to know how and where to get help. With so much misinformation floating around and a lack of education about mental health disorders, it can sometimes be difficult to even know when you have a disorder. However, there is hope; all it takes is a phone call. At Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we provide not only treatment but education to those who are struggling with a mental health disorder. Everyone deserves the help they need to walk their mental health journey, and that includes yourself. If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder, call (949) 647-4090.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.