Disability Focus: Borderline Personality Disorder

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Did you know that one in five people will directly experience a mental illness in their lifetime? This means that every single one us will most likely be impacted by a mental health condition at some point, whether it be personally or through a loved one, friend or colleague. However, the prevalence of mental illnesses in our society doesn't necessarily equate to understanding, or acceptance, as many people dealing with mental health issues still face stigma and discrimination.

Similar to physical ailments, mental illnesses can take many forms. Many of us have a basic understanding of more common mental illnesses like anxiety and depression, but have less awareness of conditions like schizophrenia or personality disorders.  Which brings us to the topic of our post today: Borderline personality disorder.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is generally defined as a "condition in which people have long-term patterns of unstable or turbulent emotions, such as feelings about themselves and others." This results in people experiencing pervasive patterns of instability in their personal relationships. People with BPD also tend to be highly impulsive, to the point of being potentially damaging to themselves. 

Symptoms exhibited by a person with this disorder are often manifestations of their impulsiveness and fluctuation in their emotions. Their impulsiveness may lead to activities like binge spending or eating, substance abuse and reckless sex. Their emotions and resulting actions may be characterized by extremes of idealization and devaluation, changes in their self-image, as well as feelings of emptiness and intense anger.

There are many misconceptions about BPD. Primarily, many people interacting with a person with BPD may feel they are being manipulated because of the extreme variations in their relationship. However, it is important to remember that a person with borderline personality disorder often struggles to control the intensity of their emotions and would rarely make a conscious decision to manipulate someone. There is also lots of evidence that BPD is treatable, and like other personality disorders, can decrease in intensity over time. Finally, there is a tendency to judge people with BPD as being unwilling to change or not trying hard enough. Many people who live with borderline personality disorder are very productive and intelligent, but they also have significant emotional and behaviour barriers associated with their disorder and are doing the best they can given their current emotional and mental state.  

Almost 75% of people diagnosed with BPD are female, although it should be noted that many people with this disorder are undiagnosed or do not seek out treatment. This is similar to many other personality disorders, as people generally do not seek treatment until the condition begins to significantly impact their life. Even so, it is estimated that 2% of the general population experiences borderline personality disorder - this is more than bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Treatment often involves psychotherapy from experienced therapists and possibly medication for some of the more debilitating symptoms. We will talk about treatment a little more in our next blog post which will discuss borderline personality disorder in the workplace. 


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