Is It Bipolar or PTSD?

  • 29 Sep, 2017


Have you ever noticed that when you take a history of someone who has been diagnosed as Bipolar that often there is a history of childhood sexual abuse or some other trauma?  I often wonder if the person has been properly diagnosed?  Since the 1980’s, the diagnosis of Bipolar has been passed out like the common cold or the flu.  Often the meds for Bipolar do help folks with the symptoms of PTSD but being labeled Bipolar if you are not is a mistake and ignores the fact that the patient needs some therapy to deal with their trauma.


The symptoms for both Bipolar and PTSD overlap, with some symptoms being very similar.  Both can have depression, anxiety, problems going into the marketplace, particularly if it is a huge place. PTSD folks can be hypervigilant and startle easily. I find this dilemma fascinating.


 No one wants to be labeled as having a disease if they do not have it.  There is still a stigma out there unfortunately.  I tell my patients that the Bipolar patient can go from one extreme to another.  On one end of the spectrum is the person who if they take their meds can be normal and function in life as if nothing is wrong.  At the other end of the scale could be someone who goes into McDonald’s and shoots up the place.  This is often one who has been on and off their meds for years and their disease has gotten much worse to the point of being untreatable.


So how does one tell the difference between if it is Bipolar or PTSD?  I think we still do not know and need to study this concept further.



Judith Hoffman, LISW-CP