The Stigma Associated with Borderline Personality Disorder

By Cameron Hancock | Jun. 28, 2017

 

Even though mental health advocates actively fight stigma associated with mental illness, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) remains one of the field’s most misunderstood, misdiagnosed and stigmatized conditions. Studies show that even some mental health professionals have more stigmatizing views about BPD than any other mental health condition: As some choose to limit the amount of BPD patients they’re “willing” to see or refuse to treat people with BPD altogether.

For those mental health professionals who do treat BPD, they often do so without the proper training, making sessions frustrating and uncomfortable for everyone. Patients may leave feeling misunderstood and judged, while providers may feel ineffective and inadequate.

Individuals experiencing BPD are also frequently labeled as “treatment resistant” and dropped as patients. But when this happens, it reinforces the common misconception that reaching out for help is hopeless. It can also intensify symptoms that caused an individual to seek help in the first place—particularly for those living with Borderline Personality Disorder. When someone who experiences an intense fear of abandonment—a common symptom of BPD—is “abandoned” by a person who should be helping them overcome that fear, it may leave them feeling even worse than when they began treatment.

Making StigmaFree Mental Health Professionals

To combat stigma associated with BPD in clinical settings, new interventions have been developed to improve mental health professionals’ attitudes towards their patients. These interventions are typically implemented through workshops designed to:

  • educate and correct common misconceptions of the disorder;
  • teach new skills that promote positive treatment outcomes; and
  • encourage a deeper understanding, through social interactions and personal stories of individuals living with BPD.

One study found that a one-day professional workshop on BPD —called Systems Training for Emotional Predictability and Problem Solving (STEPPS)—significantly improved clinicians’ attitudes toward patients with BPD and their desire to work with them. Another study found that a similar, three-hour workshop on BPD and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) also significantly reduced stigma and increased empathy.

While these courses are promising, anti-stigma programs currently available in the U.S. are still limited and underutilized. Mental health professionals should strive to challenge any preconceived notions they may have and initiate further education on their own, as alternative options to these in-person courses do exist:

  1. Behavioral Tech offers resources for providers, which includes training and treatment tools for professionals looking to learn more about DBT.
  2. NEA.BPD’s free, online course for professionals.
  3. bpdvideo’s training DVDs for professionals.

These interventions, while varying in form, all strive to accomplish the same thing: quality care and a better, more supportive environment for those seeking treatment for BPD.

Finding the Right Treatment Team

The most important part of any treatment team is the partnership between the mental health professional and the individual seeking treatment. There is no “one size fits all,” and it’s important to find a mental health professional that makes you feel comfortable and heard. While stigma can make this challenging if you live with BPD, there are things you can do to find the right provider for you:

Check credentials. You have the right to know whether any therapist you are considering working with is licensed in your state. You can also find out the therapist’s education and training.

Assess experience. Ask the therapist questions about his or her history working with people with BPD. For example: “How many patients with BPD have you treated?” and “Do you feel like you helped your previous patients with BPD lead better lives?”

Listen to language. When discussing BPD, the therapist’s language should reflect a well-informed and nonjudgmental attitude towards the mental health condition.

Point out stigma. If you feel insulted or misunderstood by a care provider, let them know. Since BPD is such a highly misunderstood condition, they may say something offensive without realizing it. If you’re comfortable with it, let them know when this happens.

Walk away. If you feel uncomfortable with your provider, if you feel like they don’t understand you, or if you feel they don’t fully understand BPD, it’s okay to leave. You don’t have to settle for a provider who isn’t meeting your treatment needs. It may take more effort to find the right fit, but recovery is worth it.

Many individuals living with BPD look for therapists who specialize in DBT. Some therapists have adopted DBT-based techniques, but aren’t technically certified in DBT. TARA (an organization that focuses on offering help to those affected by BPD) has developed guidelines to help you choose a DBT therapist.

The reality is that BPD is treatable. With evidence-based treatment, along with compassionate and supportive mental health professionals, individuals living with BPD can and do get better. 

 

Cameron Hancock is HelpLine coordinator at NAMI.

Comments
Murphy
Thank you, I have bpd and find there is really no empathy for this disorder at all, we are classified as unstable and unfixable and nothing more then a problem. when the truth is most of us just need to be heard and believed. I've lost custody of all 6 of my children and this disorder has taken over my life ever since that day. and its my biggest trigger, not one person sees a mother grieving the loss of her children whom are still living, there is no empathy , I'm just labeled and that's all there is to it , and told I need to take medications that make me suicidal. I've been labeled and that is it, there is no changing it or anyone taking responsibility for causing the trauma that caused it. i keep being told i have to accept, and accept that there is little to no help where i live. hopefully ya'll are successful in spreading the awareness on bpd a lot of people could benefit from it instead of continuing to be damaged.
7/20/2017 11:55:04 AM

Caroline
Thank you so much for doing this! I have seen so many online BPD forums where supposed "professionals" in the field refer to people with BPD as "nightmares". This is not something a person with BPD wants to see when they are looking for support. I dread telling anyone about my BPD as I am so afraid of the stigma that everyone seems to have against people who have it. Thank you for trying to teach people.
7/9/2017 3:19:21 PM

Robin
My oldest daughter has been diagnosed with BPD and this article nails it as far as her symptoms. At 31 years old, she has already been married & divorced 3 times and has 3 children. She has had a long string of relationships that haven't worked out, she harms herself and has attempted suicide several times. Needless to say, life is difficult for everyone involved. There is much more to it than just making stupid choices in life.
7/6/2017 12:27:14 PM

Lizanne Corbit
I'm so happy to come across posts like these because I can see that the important conversations are being had. It's unfortunate that this mental illness holds as much stigma as it does (even within clinical circles) but it's because of this that posts like these are so important.
7/5/2017 11:30:25 PM

Perry Hoffman
Thank you for the blog articles highlighting borderline personality disorder. We appreciate identifying the free course on the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEABPD) website and also want to alert readers to our 12 week free course, Family Connections, for relatives with a loved one with BPD. We invite people to also go to our video library, the largest in the world on the disorder (borderlinepersonalitydisorder.com). President NEABPD
7/4/2017 6:40:46 AM

Joan
Wonderfully insightful and positive article. Thank you.
7/2/2017 2:55:43 PM

Donna Marie
Amen.
7/1/2017 4:26:59 AM

Sharon
Hello, I am diagnosed with BPD I am currently working also in behavioral health which is very stressful. This article helped me to face the reality that for so long I have tried to hide. Having this disorder keeps me on a constant roller coaster of emotions all the time. These articles are very helpful because now I know its ok to be diagnosed with Boarderline Personality Disorder.
6/30/2017 7:45:47 AM

Thomas Grinley
Thank you for calling attention to this stigma. Even within clinical circles the stigma is rampant and I have heard terrible things said about those with BPD. I have even heard it used to describe someone who was being difficult.
6/29/2017 8:37:05 AM

Marie
Thank you NAMI for doing this, and for existing period. Those with schizoaffective deeply are in need of some love. I never realized that my social problems are more and more the result of being stigmatized for who I am to the point it's safer (in every sense of the word, particularly my freedom) to stay inside my home alone rather than go outside.
6/28/2017 7:16:24 PM

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