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Is bipolar a personality disorder?

Although bipolar disorder may resemble borderline and antisocial personality disorders, is it a personality disorder?

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September 21, 2022
4 min read

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterised by dramatic mood swings, which are classified as either manic or depressive. Someone with bipolar disorder can experience periods of extreme high or low moods that last for days, weeks, or even months at a time.

Personality disorders affect people in a similar way to bipolar, which is why it's often associated with personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder—but is bipolar a personality disorder?

Article breakdown

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder (sometimes referred to as manic-depressive illness) is a mental illness that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Bipolar disorder affects how you think, feel and behave, from very depressed to having periods of extremely elevated energy levels during which they may have trouble sleeping or concentrating on their daily tasks.

When you have a severe case of bipolar disorder, your emotions can swing back and forth between these two extremes quickly—sometimes several times in one day. Sometimes, these symptoms are severe and can last for long periods of time (i.e., depression or mania). When someone experiences severe depression, they may lose interest in activities they used to enjoy or feel hopeless or worthless most days. Meanwhile, mania symptoms include feeling overly excited and not being able to sleep at night. The severity of symptoms can vary from person to person and may change over time.

Is bipolar a personality trait?

The short answer is no—bipolar disorder is not a character flaw or a personality trait. Bipolar a mental health condition with symptoms that affect your brain and behaviour. Personality traits are characteristics that describe how an individual behaves and interacts with others—for example someone who is extroverted may be outgoing and enjoy being around people, while someone who is introverted may feel drained after spending time with large groups of people.

What is a personality disorder?

A personality disorder is a condition in which someone's behaviour deviates from what would be considered normal or healthy. A mental health professional diagnoses personality disorders by observing the patient over time and talking to people who are close to them. Personality disorders aren't linked to intelligence or ability, and they don't cause any specific physical symptoms, like a broken bone would. However, they can cause significant distress and impairment in functioning (like being unable to hold down a full-time job).

Bipolar disorder has been categorised as a mood disorder along with depression and anxiety conditions for decades because it involves changes in mood that have an impact on daily life. But recently there's been debate about whether this diagnosis should be changed—and whether bipolar should even be considered a mental illness at all.

What are the four personality disorders?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is the standard classification used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental health disorders. According to this manual, there are four types of personality disorders:

  • Avoidant personality disorder

  • Borderline personality disorder

  • Dependent personality disorder

  • Narcissistic personality disorder

These disorders are diagnosed when someone's personality traits cause significant distress and/or impairment in their day-to-day life. The symptoms of these disorders must be relatively stable over time, and they must be inflexible or pervasive, meaning that they're always present even in different situations.

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So, is bipolar a personality disorder?

No, bipolar disorder isn't a personality disorder—it's a mood disorder. It’s easy to see why bipolar is often mistaken as a personality disorder, though. Someone who suffers from bipolar disorder might experience some of the same symptoms as people with personality disorders, but the two aren't mutually exclusive. People with bipolar disorder may also experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, but these are separate from their diagnosis.

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