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Schizophrenia vs. Bipolar: What Are the Differences in Symptoms?

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Schizophrenia and bipolar share a few symptoms but are different mental health disorders with different symptoms. Schizophrenia, as explained by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), is a serious mental health illness affecting how an individual thinks, feels, and behaves. Individuals with schizophrenia might see like they lost touch with reality, which can cause significant distress for them and those that love them. 

It is usually diagnosed in the late teens to early thirties in males and late adolescence to early twenties for females. Diagnosis is made after the first psychotic episode. Some of its symptoms include hallucinations and delusions.

Bipolar disorder causes unnatural shifts in energy, mood, concentration, activity levels, and the ability to conduct everyday tasks. There are three types of it, all of which involve noticeable changes in energy, mood, and activity levels. Some moods may range from extremely “up” and elated to very “down,” sad or indifferent moods. These moods can switch from one to another very quickly and dramatically affect the diagnosed individual. Hallucinations and delusions are two symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Those are the main symptoms that both schizophrenia and bipolar share. However, there are other symptoms that are different for each disorder.

What Is Schizophrenia and Its Symptoms?

Schizophrenia involves a variety of cognition (thinking) problems, emotions, and behavior. The signs and symptoms of it vary, but they almost always include hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, and displays of an impaired ability to function. Below are the main signs and symptoms that indicate a person has schizophrenia, as noted by the Mayo Clinic.

Delusions: False beliefs not based on reality. Examples may include that a person may think certain comments or gestures are aimed at them, the person feels they are being harmed or harassed, or the person believes they are exceptional.

Hallucinations: Seeing or hearing things not present or do not exist. The individual with schizophrenia believes what they are seeing or hearing is normal when nothing is neither seen nor heard by others. Most often, hearing voices is the most usual hallucination.

Disorganized thinking (speech): Disorganized thinking and thoughts, disorganized speech, which presents as answers to questions partially or completely unrelated.

schizophrenia-vs-bipolar

What Is Bipolar Disorder and Its Symptoms?

First, it is essential to know there are different types of bipolar disorders. These may include symptoms like mania, hypomania, and depression. The symptoms can produce unpredictable changes in mood and behavior, which results in extreme distress and difficulty in life. Below are the different bipolar types and some of their symptoms.

Bipolar I disorder: The individual may have had at least one manic episode that might have preceded or was followed by a major depressive episode or being hypomanic. There may have been a break in reality.

Bipolar II disorder: The individual had at least one major depressive episode and one hypomanic episode but has never had a manic episode. The difference between these two is that hypomania is a milder form of mania where the energy level is higher than normal but not as extreme as in mania.

Cyclothymic disorder: The individual has had at least two years, one year as a child and one as a teenager, of having hypomania symptoms and depressive symptoms, though the depressive symptoms are less severe than major depression.

How Are Schizophrenia and Bipolar the Same?

Despite the differences of symptoms for the disorders, there are some overlapping symptoms, as indicated by Medical News Today. These are:

Psychotic episodes: Individuals with bipolar disorder will have hallucinations or delusions during manic or depressive episodes.

Disorganized thinking: Individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can experience disorganized thinking. Those with bipolar may experience this during manic episodes or may have difficulty concentrating on a single task at a time.

Depression symptoms: Individuals with either disorder might display a loss of interest in once enjoyable activities, or feel like they are unable to experience pleasure, or may have trouble concentrating or making decisions.

How Are Schizophrenia and Bipolar Different?

There are specific differences between schizophrenia and bipolar. People with schizophrenia will experience auditory hallucinations (hearing things that others cannot) while people with bipolar do not. People with bipolar disorder experience wild and sudden mood swings, grandiosity, and excitement, whereas those with schizophrenia don’t.

Paranoia can be present in both disorders, according to this Psychiatry Advisory article, but it is more prevalent in someone with schizophrenia. Also, there are more negative symptoms and cognitive dysfunction with schizophrenia than bipolar disorder. Several people with schizophrenia have noted that their symptoms are negative. Bipolar disorder involves more mood and energy swings, feelings of grandiosity, etc.

While it may seem that these two disorders are similar, they are, in fact, quite distinctive primarily due to the nature of their symptoms.

Diagnosing Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder

There is no standard blood test for either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder; however, a physician could conduct a psychological and physical exam. They may want to run a full blood test, and they may want to send you in for a CT scan or MRI to be sure no other conditions are in play. You will likely be asked about any family history of mental disorders and about any symptoms you are experiencing. 

It is crucial to be completely honest with your doctor about any symptoms, even if you think they are not worth mentioning or are nervous to mention them. It is also vital to be truthful about any substance use you may be engaging in, as any medication the physician may prescribe could not mix well with other drugs and alcohol. Your doctor may request you undergo a substance use screening to be sure.

You might have to return a few times to your doctor before a diagnosis is made, and you might even be referred to a doctor that specializes in mental health conditions, as most HMOs require referrals to specialists. A doctor may ask you to maintain a journal of your moods, sleep patterns, and record any symptoms you are experiencing. This will help the doctor determine any patterns that can help them make the correct diagnosis.

Treatment and Affording Treatment

Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have similar and different symptoms. Treatment for either mental illness might involve psychotherapy and medication. Both conditions are treatable. Fortunately, there are top-rated mental health centers in South Florida, such as Vista Pines Health, which can help you or someone you care about get the best care possible for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Many people with mental health disorders do not seek treatment because they feel they can manage their symptoms on their own or cannot afford proper care. They may try to self-medicate to alleviate their symptoms, which is never smart to do, as alcohol and drugs can worsen symptoms.

Mental health treatment does not have to “break the bank,” and it can be paid for in several ways. Some ways to pay for treatment could include:

  • Health insurance – private or work-sponsored
  • Medical loans
  • Short-term loans through a bank or credit union
  • Family loans
  • Payment plans worked out with the mental health facility.

What You Can Do Now

If you need some relief now, there are few things you can do to help yourself feel better, such as get an adequate amount of sleep, eat a healthy diet every day, find and practice ways to destress, and take any prescribed medication from your doctor on schedule. Also, lean on your support system. They are there to give you comfort and strength when you need it, and more so when you have days when you are feeling hopeless.

The symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can be alarming and unnerving when they are not treated when they occur. They can cause great distress in life, disrupt daily activities, and ruin valued relationships. Today is a good day to reach out and get help.

Sources

National Institute of Mental Health. (2020 May) Schizophrenia. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml

National Institute of Mental Health. (2020 January) Bipolar Disorder. from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml#part_145404

Mayo Clinic. (2020, January 7) Schizophrenia. from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizophrenia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354443

Mayo Clinic. (2021, February 16) Bipolar Disorder. from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bipolar-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355955

MedicalNewsToday. (2019, February 13) Bipolar and schizophrenia symptoms. Leonard, J. from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324440

Psychiatry Advisor. (2019, October 10) Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and the Psychosis Continuum. Yasgur, B., MA, LSW. from https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/schizophrenia-and-psychoses/schizophrenia-bipolar-disorder-and-the-psychosis-continuum/

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