Multiple Personality Disorder or Bipolar Disorder

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Is Multiple Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder the same?

Answer: No. They are two separate diagnoses. However Multiple Personality Disorder, which is now called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), is often misdiagnosed as Bipolar Disorder.

DID is a rare mental disorder characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring personality states. These personality states are unique enough that they may present with different names, life stories, etc. Though personality states are defined as temporary behaviors or feelings that depend on a person’s situation and motives at a particular time, they are more enduring in DID.

An individual with DID may experience memory gaps beyond what could be explained by ordinary forgetfulness. Some professionals believe the cause of DID is childhood trauma. In about 90% of cases, there is a history of abuse in childhood. An alternative hypothesis is that it is a by-product of techniques employed by some therapists. If that is true than the personalities discovered by therapists are actually iatrogenic, or therapist induced.

I suspect there is some truth in both camps. Though I have never worked with a person who presented with multiple personalities; I have seen one or more individuals who would begin to hum loud enough to be heard by others during a sermon or speech. It was evident they were splitting from contextual reality. These individuals had experienced childhood sexual abuse and may have used this technique to shut themselves off from the pain of the trauma, probably beginning with the trauma.

In contrast, Bipolar Disorder is a mental disorder that causes periods of depression and abnormally elevated mood. The elevated mood is out of the ordinary and is known as mania or hypomania, depending on the severity. In the past, this condition was known as Manic-Depressive Disorder. During a manic phase, an individual behaves or feels abnormally energetic, happy, or irritable. This alternates with depressive phases. During manic phases, these individuals often make poorly thought out decisions with little regard to the consequences. They may go on spending sprees or become involved in indiscriminate sexual exploits. And the need for sleep is usually reduced. During periods of depression, there may be crying, a negative outlook on life, and/or poor eye contact with others. The causes are not clearly understood, but both environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a role.

The approach to treating these disorders is quite different. DID is often treated with therapy, whereas Bipolar Disorder is treated with medication.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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