1. Health

Borderline Personality Disorder Is A Real Mental Illness

By November 15, 2008

I continue to receive lots of questions and comments about whether borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a "real" mental illness. These questions are understandable; BPD has a very long history of being misunderstood, and unfortunately there are even well-respected and well-meaning practitioners who do not fully understand the disorder and perpetuate the myth that BPD is somehow not "real."

My firm stand is that BPD is a very real and serious mental illness, and I am not alone. It is not a “personality problem” or just a set of maladaptive ways of coping with the world. BPD is the result of a combination of biological, genetic and environmental causes. It is recognized as a psychiatric disorder in the official guidebook used by mental health providers to diagnose mental illness (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and is severe enough to warrant being designated as a “serious mental illness” by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

What do you think about this issue? Do you view BPD as a legitimate mental illness? Have you had experiences in which someone suggested that BPD is not a real disorder? Leave a comment below....

December 8, 2008 at 10:30 am
(1) ACS says:

Having been misdiagnosed as a BPD suffering individual I had my misconceptions about this disease. It was very painful to receive such a death sentence when for 27 years I lived a normal and productive life with meaningful relationships and a stable marriage. After a bout with post-partum depression and a string of disastrous events I unraveled in an emotional level and everything suffered, I became suicidal and in 2 hours over a suicide watch at an ER an intern diagnosed me as a BPD. With this label my life descended to a pit of nothingness, it was not until I demanded to get a second opinion and a battery of tests (all 5 hours worth) that I learned my official diagnosis was Anxiety Disorder NOS, and that yes, I do have maladaptive tendencies under severely stressful situation. Sadly, my husband is going trough the same thing now. A string of disastrous events have thrown him into a severe depression and his coping mechanisms mimic those of people with BPD. So, I wonder if we all have the potential to display this highly scary behaviors when a perfect storm ensues…

January 22, 2009 at 3:16 pm
(2) Karen says:

Time Magazine recently did an article on BPD, and (as someone being treated under that diagnosis) I was none too thrilled with the sensationalism it seemed to be written around. “Death sentence” is not only a sensational way to describe an illness that is being (in multiple cases) treated successfully through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, but it’s also very disheartening, and psychologically threatening to those struggling through it.

I am 27 years old, and I am not dead, nor do I consider myself dying. I lead a full life, and I am learning to deal with the everyday pain in healthy ways. It’s a struggle, but it is not a death sentence, and I resent anyone who chooses to label it as such.

And, whether or not the disease (or label) is “real” seems moot. The symptoms ARE real. There are many who feel the symptoms on many different levels, and adding stigma to the already stigmatized field of behavioral and personality disorders seems anti-productive at this point.

Treat the symptoms, treat the patient, and maybe one day the stigma will take care of itself.

September 9, 2009 at 5:40 pm
(3) Emma says:

I was diagnosed with BPD and I have to say I was finally glad to have a diagnosis after years of suffering. i don’t like to think of it as an illness though but I guess that is what it is. I have had symptoms of BPD through childhood as a teenager and now adult. I am 33. They symptoms are with me everyday and I find the mood swings particularly bad and difficult to cope with. At least being diagnosed (and I do not disagree with my diagnosis at all)I can get the help I need and try and cope but it’s not easy and I do get worse if something bad happens (at work or in life in general. I am just recovering from another ‘episode’ of bpd and start therapy again next week.

October 24, 2009 at 9:38 pm
(4) Lee-anne Uren says:

i was diagnosed as having bpd 10 years ago i have been in therapy for 10 months and was told that it is not a mental illness i just was not taught the skills in life from my unstable parents. I am confused

March 19, 2010 at 5:07 pm
(5) Angie says:

I have had BPD for many years which has gone undetected until i saw a great psychiatrist that made the diagnosis. Unfortunately he has left the clinic i go to and the new psychiatrist i see does not understand me at all even saying i should come of my medication and be discharged. I am at present suicidal and without the right understanding their is no hope

October 22, 2010 at 6:39 pm
(6) Dad says:

I have a 34 year old daughter who was diagnosed to have BPD over 3 years ago. Two psychiatrist, two involuntary inpatient stays, one social worker all agree. She initially accepted her illness and admitted to cutting, vomiting and alcohol abuse. She now thinks that BPD is not real. She has convinced herself that she is the victim of abuse. She thinks she was abused as a child and as an adult. Her mother, sister and I (her dad) know the child abuse did not happen. She also thinks she was abused by her ex-husband, which we don’t think is true.
The judge in the 3 day divorce case did not believe her allegation of abuse. He gave physical care of her six year old son to the father and severely limited her visitation to 2 day every other month until she gets treatment. She still refuses to seek help.

November 17, 2010 at 3:17 pm
(7) Cate says:

Personality disorders involve disortions of thought in direct interface in interpersonal relationships. Mood disorders and other diagnoses of the mental illness variety involve disortions with overall reality itself.

Personality disorders have deeply ingrained thought processes or “programming” that seems like it is deeply rooted with the subconscious and it might involve processes of the brain that are hardwired by trauma. A genetic predisposition to mental illness might possibly preclude a personality disorder, but I believe that traumatic events trigger and set the stage for these malajusted behavioral patterns and urges to emerge.

A person with a personality disorder, depending upon intelligence, reslience and strength, might be able to heal, OR might be able to spot and manage symptoms. As a mild borderline/passive-aggressive with dependent tendencies, I have to keep myself in constant moral check like someone in AA goes over the 12 steps and lives them. I spot bad thinking patterns and I have to do *homeowork* to *see* what my inner child wants or needs. I parce out what is truth and what is a lie. I go to another person or my therapist if my judgement is befuddled.

I also believe that Abraham Lowe helps. Things like “Excuse instead of accuse” and “These things will happen in daily life” and “Make mental health your supreme goal.”

I use Christianity as my main religion, but I use eastern philosophies to re-focus my mind on things and people who are outside of the self. I listen to the Bahavad Gita every day. I steady my mind.

Medications, talk therapy, self help program-groups like Abraham Lowe, and other techniques can give hope to people with personality disorders. Don’t ever give up. There will be a lot of weeping, crunching of fists, crying and pain, but in the end, with work and with the strengthening of yourself without and within, a productive and happy life, albeit imperfect, is possible.


February 26, 2011 at 1:31 pm
(8) kevin blumer says:

I have the feeling that they no longer want to see bpd as an ilness they want to see it as a condition there is a lot of confusion on this subject. I see it more myself as a mental illness now the phycyatrist sees it an another way that it is not an illness and we are perfectly well for working. I have big problems with goverment etc taking this view we need to be able to cope with BPD before we can work then when the right kind of support and that you are coping with BPD we will be able to work how do you see BPD as a condition or a mental illness?

April 10, 2011 at 4:09 am
(9) ShadowHeart says:

I was diagnosed with BPD over 18yrs ago and until recently had no real incidents. I recently faced things I could not handle and sought help. My employer has an Employee Assistance Program with company appointed therapists. In my initial interview, this therapist told me BPD does not exist and is only a title used to pigeon-hole people. She then told me I am the same a evryone else, I’ve just chosen maladaptive strategies to cope with. I sought help because I am out of whack, so to speak, and being so confused, I don’t know what to think.
I really believe BPD is more than just maladaptive behaviours. They certainly are present, but I believe there is a deeper problem underneath. All I can say for sure is that it sure feels like a real mental illness.

July 20, 2011 at 6:31 pm
(10) Marie says:

I was dx’d in Dec. 2010. Now, it’s July 2011, and I’m beginning to agree more with the 1st poster (ACS).

I was dx’d w/ a severe illness at age 9. After that, life was bad. I was bullied and beaten up by my peers.

I was abused emotionally by my Adoptive Dad, but believe I may not have developed BPD symptoms if it weren’t for the severe illness. Although he was abusive, compared to others I’ve spoken with, it was relatively mild abuse.

I wonder if ADHD, or Panic Disorder w/ Agoraphobia (which I have been diagnosed with, too) has been part of the cause of my inability to work over the years & more or less “mimics” the BPD.

Also, I really am a hermit & never had any desire to have a career/job, never mind the Agoraphobia; it’s very mild. I just hated working, plain & simple, & would do anything to get out of it. I just never really valued $ much, a paycheck for the sake of a paycheck, nor did I, & still don’t value modern society. I DO value doing meaningful things, & if they lead to $, that’s great, but if not, that’s okay, too.

July 20, 2011 at 6:32 pm
(11) Marie says:

But as a result of the physical issues, which get worse over time, I have intense rage & thus Borderline symptoms. I agree with ACS – when you are under extreme stress, which I have been for the last 5 years, I think anyone will have Borderline traits. i.e. my symptoms got much worse after I moved to a new region of the USA & didn’t understand the culture, nor did I like it.

The symptoms are real. That’s for sure. I also think some of the researchers who think that BPD is a severe form of PTSD (also diagnosed with that) are quite possibly spot on. I have not had all 9 of the criteria over my life time. Some are present, while others are not. And then they change.

If you stop & think about it, each 1 of the 9 criteria CAN be attributed to something else, another mental illness, severe stress, all kinds of things. I think when you see a bunch of those symptoms together you get the diagnosis of BPD. Is it real? I don’t know. Can you have the symptoms, even all 9 at once? Yes. But I think the most important thing is to treat the symptoms by themselves, not the diagnosis as a whole.

I have also taken DBT & Anger Management, amazingly, many of my Borderline symptoms are gone or largely under control. But DBT is useful for many things, like PTSD, Anxiety, Depression, & just plain old overwhelming emotions.

I don’t like the diagnosis. The stigma is awful.

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