Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia – Diagnosis and Treatment

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

When it comes to recognizing and treating mental health conditions, bipolar disorder (BD) and schizophrenia often stand out as especially challenging. While BD tends to be characterized by intense mood swings, and schizophrenia is largely marked by psychosis, the two can share common symptoms.

It’s also not unusual for someone with either condition to be struggling with other symptoms or diagnoses as well, complicating an already stressful time in a person’s life and sometimes delaying the start of their recovery.

So, what should health care and public health professionals know about the key distinctions between BD and schizophrenia? How is each condition diagnosed and treated? And who is most at risk of developing one or the other?

Audience Questions

Ann K. Shinn, MD, MPH, offers a comprehensive look at both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, provides guidance for recognizing their signs and symptoms, and answers audience questions about effective treatment for these conditions.

  • What is a working definition of schizophrenia?
  • How common is schizophrenia?
  • What are the causes of schizophrenia?
  • Does gender affect the risk of developing schizophrenia or the presentation of the illness?
  • What does the diagnostic process look like for identifying schizophrenia?
  • What signs of schizophrenia can a loved one or educator be looking out for?
  • Does schizophrenia ever present in older adults possibly experiencing dementia?
  • Are there any scales to measure insight of individuals with schizophrenia?
  • Are there psychosis screening tools that a non-clinical person such as a school counselor could use?
  • What is the gold standard approach for treating schizophrenia?
  • What is a working definition of bipolar disorder?
  • What is the distinction between bipolar I and bipolar II?
  • What are the causes of bipolar disorder?
  • Can a bipolar I diagnosis shift to a bipolar II diagnosis and vice versa?
  • What is the primary approach for treating bipolar disorder?
  • Can schizophrenia co-occur with bipolar disorder?
  • How does substance use factor into the risk for psychosis?
  • How can the stigma of a schizophrenia or bipolar diagnosis affect someone? How can their life look with one of those diagnoses?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.


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About Dr. Shinn

Ann K. Shinn, MD, MPH, is the director of clinical research in McLean’s Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Research Program, and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

From 2013-2017, she was the co-medical director of McLean OnTrackTM, an intensive outpatient program specializing in the treatment of first episode psychosis. Her current research focus is in understanding the neurobiology of symptom dimensions in psychosis.

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