According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental illness that affects people suffering from issues of emotional control, self-esteem and paranoia. Since people with BPD are emotionally unstable, they often struggle with extreme mood changes that can last between a few hours and several days.

The stigma around Bordeline Personality Disorder

The first mistake would be to think that BPD is a personality trait so that you can’t recover from it (as it’s not really an illness). BPD is a real mental illness diagnosis and as any diagnosis you can recover and not experience its symptoms anymore.

Another common thought is that only women who suffered from sexual abuse will develop a BPD diagnosis. The exact causes of BPD are still not clear, but what is for sure is that you don’t have to be sexually abused to be diagnosed with BPD. BPD’s symptoms are “social symptoms” they differ between genders. This might be the reason why past researches did find an important difference rate between men and women. New researches show the rates are actually comparable, the main difference would be that women will experience mood swings and feelings of emptiness, where men will mostly show behavioral impulsivity.

The main issue with BPD is how often it is misunderstood leading to being misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder or with major depressive disorder for example as well as leading to a very strong stigma not only in the general population but also in healthcare professionals. 

We already know that mental illnesses are very stigmatized in the general population, which is already a heavy weight to add to an experience as complicated as what a mental illness is. However, when the stigma impacts healthcare professionals it can have an even worst impact…

When it comes to BPD the common stereotypes are either to undermine the experience, saying it is a fad or that it’s a “crazy women menstrual symptom” (yes, I did hear it a couple of times…). The person is portrayed as being manipulativedramatic and ready to do anything for some attention. This is even more obvious when you look for testimonials online, mostly extreme cases are represented and this has been one of the first reason for creating the MISTAG project – to show all the nuances of people with a diagnosis, show the reality and not just a buzz story.

Why is it important to also educate healthcare professionals bout the stigma? Because when the person who should help you is impacted by these stereotypes, it puts the patient even more at risk of dangerous behaviors and suicide. It increases the risks of receiving not only the wrong treatment but also a bad treatment. What does a bad treatment mean? It means that the professional can undermine the person’s symptoms, not taking it seriously considering the patients as “just being dramatic” or “trying to manipulate them with crazy stories to get their attention” (yes, I also heard that …).

Getting diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder

The person living with BPD is someone who is constantly and extremely afraid of being rejected. This leads the person to overreact to certain events and to be in an overprotecting mode using imaginary rules or mantras, impulsive decisions or even rejecting the people they love fearing they will hurt or reject them later. These behaviors can hurt the people around them a lot, it is not always easy to understand that someone with BPD isn’t aware that most of the time they put themselves in the situation they are in and they don’t “just act like a victim”. The person living with BPD is living with a constant war inside their headfearing to be alone but also scared to love because of they are afraid to be rejected. Someone living with BPD is a very sensitive person, they can be the best person you’ll have in your life, but it might not always be easy to understand the reason of some behaviors. As usual, communication is the key.

Someone living with BPD may also display symptoms such as:

  • unpredictable and impulsive behavior.
  • distorted self-image.
  • recurring feelings of emptiness, anger and depression.
  • social withdrawal (despite wishing to participate in society) – e.g. from idealization to devaluation of social interaction, and vice-versa.
  • self-harm (and suicide attempts).

Because living with BPD leads to struggle with your own emotions, the person with BPD will tend to deviate from pain by engaging in risky behaviors such as, excessive spending, impulsive driving, addictions, irresponsible sexual behavior, theft and/or suicide attempts.

As for people with other mental health problems, people suffering from borderline personality disorder often exhibit comorbidity with mental illnesses such as addictions, depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorder and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The causes of Borderline Personality Disorder

Concerning the potential causes of borderline personality disorder, researchers have identified three different variables:

  • genetics – i.e. if one family member struggles with borderline personality disorder, other family members have a higher probability of suffering from it.
  • socio-cultural environment – e.g. relevance of episodes of physical and/or sexual abuse, emotional invalidation as a child, parental insensitivity, early abandonment and bullying
  • brain structure – i.e. incorrect functioning of brain areas regulating an individual’s emotions and the way the brain uses serotonin.

Borderline Personality Disorder’s statistics

  • 6% of the world population struggles with borderline personality disorder.
  • Worldwide 3-14% of children are likely to suffer from borderline personality disorder.
  • 80% of people with borderline personality disorder have attempted suicide at least once in a lifetime.
  • Almost 10% of people suffering from borderline personality disorder have died by suicide.
  • The incidence of people with borderline personality disorder is higher in male-dominated societies than in female cultures.
  • 50% of patients with borderline personality disorder also suffer from depression or bipolar disorder.
  • 50% of people with borderline personality disorder are likely to struggle with prescription drug abuse.