Borderline Personality Disorder Is More Common Than You Think

by Kimberly Zapata
A woman with borderline personality disorder holding her hands on crossed legs

Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is relatively common. In fact, it is estimated that one in 100 folks live with this condition. Or, to put it another way, 1.4 percent of the adult population has been diagnosed with BPD — most of them women. And yet, despite its prevalence, this illness remains highly stigmatized. Most people do not know what borderline personality disorder is. Their only knowledge of the condition comes from the media, and from shows (and movies) like “Fatal Attraction.” But the actual condition varies quite a bit from its Hollywood portrayal. There are still many misconceptions about BPD.

“Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental illness that is commonly misunderstood by the general population and even some healthcare professionals,” an article on Very Well Mind explains. “It’s also a disorder that has the potential to negatively impact the lives of others. Because of these two issues, there are many misconceptions about BPD. [But] if you or someone you know has BPD, it’s important to understand the truth about the illness in order to begin recovery.” There is both help and hope.

So what is borderline personality disorder? What are the signs and symptoms, and how is it treated? Here’s everything you need to know about borderline personality disorder.

What is it?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, borderline personality disorder is a “personality” disorder or “illness marked by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and behavior.”

People with BPD may experience mood swings and/or view things in extremes, i.e. everything is good or bad. Life is black or white. People with borderline personality disorder struggle with their sense of self-worth. Their self-image is often distorted and/or unstable, as are their relationships. They may swing from being extremely close to the friends and loved ones in their life to being angry and/or distant.

What are the signs and symptoms?

While everyone will experience BPD differently, Rethink Mental Illness explains that those who live with borderline personality disorder tend to have difficulties with:

  • impulsivity
  • feeling bad about themselves
  • controlling their emotions
  • self-harm
  • suicidal thoughts
  • feeling ’empty’ or numb
  • dissociation
  • identity confusion
  • paranoia
  • depression
  • maintaining stable relationships

What are the causes?

The cause of borderline personality disorder is not known; however, research suggests that genetics and environmental, cultural, and social factors may play a role. “There’s no single reason why some people develop borderline personality disorder,” Rethink Mental Illness explains. “Professionals can’t use things like blood tests or brain scans to help diagnose people.”

That said, you may be more vulnerable to BPD if a close family member, like a parent or sibling also lives with BPD. Experiencing abuse and/or long-term distress as a child can also increase your odds of being diagnosed with BPD, as can your brain’s development.

“Studies show that people with borderline personality disorder can have structural and functional changes in the brain especially in the areas that control impulses and emotional regulation,” NIMH explains. “But is it not clear whether these changes are risk factors for the disorder, or caused by the disorder.”

How is it diagnosed?

There are no medical tests which can confirm or deny the presence of BPD. Rather, BPD is diagnosed based on a series of assessments, including a medical examination, a psychological evaluation, and a discussion of your signs and symptoms.

“A licensed mental health professional — such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker — experienced in diagnosing and treating mental disorders can diagnose borderline personality disorder by completing a thorough interview, including a discussion about symptoms; performing a careful and thorough medical exam, which can help rule out other possible causes of symptoms; [and] asking about family medical histories, including any history of mental illness,” NIMH explains.

How is it treated?

While BPD is — historically speaking — difficult to treat, there is help and hope for those living with this condition.

Psychotherapy is the first-line treatment for people with borderline personality disorder,” NIMH explains. “A therapist can provide one-on-one treatment… or treatment in a group setting. Because the benefits are unclear, medications are not typically used as the primary treatment for borderline personality disorder. However, in some cases, a psychiatrist may recommend medications to treat specific symptoms, such as: mood swings, depression and other co-occurring mental disorders [and] treatment with medications may require care from more than one medical professional.”