Diagnosing mental illness can be challenging, because there aren’t medical tests that can definitively prove the correct diagnosis for someone who has symptoms of mental illness. Determining the correct diagnosis is very important in order to create the most effective treatment plan.
Many different forms of mental illness share similar symptoms. One example of this is borderline personality disorder (BPD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A person with symptoms of either disorder may be misdiagnosed with the other, and it’s also possible to have both at the same time.
Symptoms That Could Indicate Either BPD or PTSD
There are some symptoms that occur in both BPD and PTSD, which could indicate either disorder. These symptoms include:
- Mood swings
- Problems with regulating emotions
- Fear of abandonment
- Episodes of anger or rage
If a patient has any of these symptoms, the doctor will continue to work toward identifying other symptoms that may help to determine the correct diagnosis.
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Distinguishing Symptoms and Treatment of BPD
BPD is categorized as a personality disorder, which is a condition characterized by a longstanding pattern of problematic thoughts, behaviors and feelings. The problems stemming from a personality disorder frequently start in adolescence or early adulthood.
Symptoms of BPD include:
- Unstable relationships that often swing between idealization of the partner and devaluing them
- Difficulty controlling anger
- Extreme efforts to avoid abandonment
- Deliberate self-harm
- Recurring suicidal thoughts or actions
The best results for treatment of BPD usually happen with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Psychotherapy is a treatment method that helps the person master emotional dysregulation by using coping skills. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is often recommended for the treatment of BPD and can help a person with this disorder to build a life worth living. Medications may be used to help reduce the symptoms of anxiety or depression that often accompany BPD.
Distinguishing Symptoms and Treatment of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within three months after a traumatic event. Symptoms that may strongly indicate PTSD include:
- Avoiding places or events that are reminders of the trauma
- Being startled easily
- Persistent shame, guilt or fear
- Feeling estranged or detached from others
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
Treatment of PTSD includes medications, talk therapy or both. This condition affects people differently, so an approach that works for one person might not work for another. Support from family and friends may be a very effective part of recovery.
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
A person who experiences repeated traumas over several months or years may have complex posttraumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). In addition to the symptoms of PTSD, a person with C-PTSD may also have difficulty regulating emotions, difficulty with relationships or dissociation.
C-PTSD can be a debilitating condition, and a person with this condition may respond to a treatment approach that is similar to treating BPD, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).
When BPD and PTSD Co-Occur
BPD and PTSD occur at the same time in a large number of people. One reason for this is that experiencing traumatic events in childhood is a risk factor for both disorders. PTSD can intensify the symptoms of BPD.
If both disorders do occur at the same time, treatment for both disorders is needed. While psychotherapy is an effective treatment method for both disorders, each may require a different approach. For example, in BPD, dialectical behavioral therapy is often recommended, while a person with PTSD may get better results from exposure therapy to help them face and control their fears.
The similar symptoms that occur between BPD and PTSD can make it hard to distinguish between them. Each individual with mental illness is unique and, while some symptoms may overlap, each may require a different approach to treatment.
If you or a loved one are struggling with a BPD or PTSD, please contact us at (855) 409-0204 or submit the form below and a treatment specialist will contact you.