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Bipolar and Schizophrenia

Bipolar and Schizophrenia

Many people confuse the two illnesses of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  The public in general doesn’t seem to be highly educated or aware of the particulars of either of these mental illnesses, which is a shame because bipolar disorder is a fairly common psychological difficulty and schizophrenia is a very complex and debilitating illness that has far-reaching implications for society.  In this article we will introduce each of these illnesses individually before performing a comparison of bipolar versus schizophrenia and clearing the air about the differences and the commonalities.

The idea is to help correct the mistakes that occur due to people glossing over the issue or not caring enough to take the time to truly educate themselves.  People often misrepresent a range of mental illnesses as bipolar because it is the only label with which they are familiar.  It has almost reached a point where the term bipolar is used to as a way to describe anyone who seems to feel strong emotions or has moody moments.  Both bipolar and schizophrenia remain stigmatized as well, leading to undue suffering for those dealing with these issues.  Some people even assume there is such a thing as bipolar schizophrenia., some amalgamation of the two illnesses.  None of this is correct or acceptable, however, and we shall discuss why.

A Comparison: Bipolar vs Schizophrenia

Understanding bipolar disorder in the context of schizophrenia is crucial in order to gain a full comprehension of the differences and similarities between the two.  While schizophrenia is not well understood in terms of causes, the mechanism of action, nor the most beneficial mode of treatment, the opposite can be said for bipolar disorder.  The symptoms are not as varied as those of schizophrenia, largely being a fluctuation of the mood from manic to depressive episodes.  Both phases can last upwards to months.  This is one place where the public gets confused, and although there is the idea of rapid-cycling bipolar disorder being passed about, the standard diagnosis does not allow for daily mood swings.

Those individuals who experience a manic episode may become very productive, hyperactive, and delusional in their thinking.  This usually results in an overly optimistic view of reality and delusions of grandeur, an inflated perception of what is possible for the individual in terms of goals and achievements.  Mania ends with a descent into depression that results in melancholy, a loss of interest in the activities they were just so passionate about, and lethargy.  This movement between the two poles of emotion disrupt the sleep cycle of the individual and often the social, family, and work life as well.  It can have devastating effects on one’s finances as impulsive purchases are made or gambling is performed under the belief of being extremely lucky or chosen.

This is not how schizophrenia affects a person.  Depending on the subtype of schizophrenia, a person may become delusional and paranoid, disorganized in their thinking, or catatonic in movement and thought.  The schizophrenic individual may also experience hallucinations, which is not common in bipolar disorder.  The treatment of bipolar disorder is less straightforward in methodology.  The medications can have the opposite effect of what is intended when the person cycles from mania to depression.  This tends to exacerbate symptoms at times and the side effects often inspire people to stop taking their medication.  Some people dealing with bipolar find that they truly enjoy their manic episodes, despite the destruction they can cause, and don’t want to be treated.  For more about bipolar disorder in general, Psych Central has a wonderful guide.

Continuing to Contrast Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder

When considering how these two psychological conundrums impact daily life, it can easily be said that bipolar disorder has less of an effect on normal functioning.  The individual with bipolar disorder, more likely than the schizophrenic, can find great success in their career and work life, maintain great social relationships, support a family, and more.  While this is very possible for the person living with schizophrenia, it is very difficult for some and imposes a certain level of complication for all.  Because bipolar doesn’t include hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and episodes of catatonia, it interferes less drastically than the symptoms of schizophrenia do.

Despite the problems described above that would cause a person with bipolar difficulties to stop their medication regimen, people dealing with schizophrenia have a rougher time with treatment.  The treatment for schizophrenia includes medication, group and individual therapy, cognitive behavioral work, and attendance in support groups.  The difficulty in maintaining a career and social relationships can make it harder to obtain access to transportation or even a willingness to attend these sessions of therapy and support.  The nature of the delusions can confuse the individual and cause them to believe there is nothing wrong with them but that they are being victimized or persecuted.

Psychosis in Bipolar and Schizophrenia

It could be summarized that the largest difference between the acute psychotic episodes between schizophrenia and bipolar disorder is that of the course of the symptoms.  In some cases, the psychosis will continue to grow worse or stabilize in a critical phase and continue to be a problem for a long time, possibly for the person’s lifetime.  In this case it is likely that the person is suffering from schizophrenia.

If the psychotic episodes were to be just that, episodic, resulting in a cycling in and out of psychosis, then it is likely that the person is experiencing mania and is suffering from bipolar disorder, or what used to be called manic-depression.  The key difference then, is the duration or frequency of the psychosis.  For this reason it could be said that bipolar is a mood disorder while schizophrenia is a thinking disorder.


As discussed, schizophrenia is a much more debilitating illness that has a larger impact on the individual’s chances of normal functioning within society.  The treatment plan is well laid out, but less successful than the treatment options for bipolar disorder.  Bipolar disorder is fully understood, for the most part, in comparison to schizophrenia.  If there was one thing to take away from this article, it is that bipolar disorder is a disorder of mood stability while schizophrenia largely results in a distortion or disorganization of thinking.

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