It can be difficult for non-clinicians to differentiate between some mental health concerns, such as PTSD vs. bipolar disorder. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to complete a thorough assessment and receive an accurate diagnosis from a qualified healthcare provider.
Jump to Section
Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are three common forms of bipolar disorder. They are defined by the types of episodes or symptoms a person experiences:
- Bipolar I disorder: This form of bipolar disorder is characterized by manic episodes. These episodes, which last at least one week, involve elevated self-esteem, talkativeness, energy, and goal-directed activity. During manic episodes, a person may also engage in reckless and impulsive behaviors related to gambling, spending, driving, eating, and/or sex.
- Bipolar II disorder: People with bipolar II disorder will have hypomanic episodes and major depressive episodes. Hypomanic episodes are similar to manic episodes, except they may only last for four days. Major depressive episodes involve intense sadness, low energy, insomnia or hypersomnia, feelings of worthlessness, and similar symptoms. A major depressive episode will last for at least two weeks.
- Cyclothymia: This type of bipolar disorder includes symptoms of hypomania that do not rise to the level of a full hypomanic episode and symptoms of depression that do not meet the criteria for a major depressive episode. To be diagnosed with cyclothymia, adults must experience these types of symptoms for at least two years.
As a quick review, can you identify which statement regarding bipolar I disorder is true?
- It must involve manic and major depressive episodes.
- It must involve manic, hypomanic, and major depressive episodes.
- It must involve at least one manic episode.
- It must involve at least one major depressive episode.
- It must involve at least one hypomanic episode.
If you selected #3, congratulations! People who have bipolar I disorder may have major depressive episodes and/or hypomanic episodes – but the only episodes that are required for this diagnosis are manic episodes.
Types of PTSD
PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, is a mental health disorder that occurs in the aftermath of one or more traumatic events. Examples of experiences that can precede the onset of PTSD include military combat, physical abuse, sexual assault, verbal harassment, serious illnesses, and automobile accidents. The common element among these experiences is that they can cause a person to believe that their life, or the life of a loved one, is in danger.
The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) only includes one entry for PTSD. However, clinicians and other mental health experts have begun to identify and treat different types of PTSD, such as the following:
- Complex PTSD (C-PTSD or CPTSD): This term is often used to describe the experience of people who have been exposed to multiple traumatic events or long-term trauma, potentially lasting months or even years. This can include ongoing child abuse or severe neglect. C-PTSD often, but not always, has its roots in trauma that occurred during a person’s childhood.
- Posttraumatic stress injury (PTSI): Some experts use the term PTSI instead of PTSD to help avoid stigma that unfortunately still exists around mental health disorders. Using the term “injury,” these professionals hope, will encourage more people to seek the professional help that can significantly improve their lives.
- Comorbid or co-occurring PTSD: This term applies to people who have PTSD as well as another mental or behavioral health concern. People who have PTSD may also be affected by anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness.
Similarities: PTSD vs Bipolar Disorder
It can be difficult for someone who isn’t a clinician to differentiate between PTSD vs. bipolar disorder, because these disorders can share certain symptoms, such as the following:
- Dramatic mood swings
- Reckless, impulsive behaviors
- Increased risk of substance abuse
- Recurring thoughts of death and dying
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
- Inability to feel joy
- Loss of interest in important activities
- Withdrawal and isolation
Differences: PTSD vs Bipolar Disorder
Although the two disorders have several similarities, there are also some key differences between PTSD vs. bipolar disorder:
- PTSD always has an external trigger. This disorder develops after a person has been involved in or witnessed one or more traumatic events. Bipolar disorder does not require an environmental precursor.
- PTSD can involve dangerous, reckless, and/or impulsive behaviors, but people who have this disorder do not experience the manic or hypomanic episodes that can be characteristic of bipolar disorder.
- Bipolar disorder and PTSD may both involve recurring thoughts of death and dying – but only PTSD will involve intrusive thoughts of one or more specific traumatic events.
Types of Treatment for Bipolar Disorder vs PTSD
Although there are many differences between PTSD vs. bipolar disorder, the general approach to treating these disorders is somewhat similar. Depending on the nature and severity of the symptoms that a person has been experiencing, treatment for both bipolar disorder and PTSD often involves a combination of medication and therapy.
Prescription medications may be able to ease some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder and PTSD. Therapy can help people learn to manage the symptoms that are not alleviated by the medications.
Types of therapy that may be beneficial for people who have these disorders include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), individual and group therapy, and family therapy. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR therapy) can also be a valuable element of care for people who have PTSD.
Contact Our Bipolar and PTSD Treatment Center in Los Angeles, CA
If you or someone that you care about have been struggling with PTSD and/or bipolar disorder, Montare Behavioral Health can help. Our mental health treatment center in Los Angeles, California, offers personalized inpatient and outpatient services for adolescents and adults. Contact us today to learn how we can help.