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Key Definitions

The following are definitions associated with mental health care. Information sources include the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

What is Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a condition characterized by difficulties in regulating emotion. This difficulty leads to severe, unstable mood swings, impulsivity and instability, poor self-image and stormy personal relationships. People may make repeated attempts to avoid real or imagined situations of abandonment. The combined result of living with BPD can manifest into destructive behavior, such as self-harm or suicide attempts.

It is estimated that 1.6% of the adult U.S. population has BPD, but that figure may be as high as 5.9%. Nearly 75% of people diagnosed with BPD are women, but recent research suggests that men may be almost as frequently affected by BPD. In the past, men with BPD were often misdiagnosed with PTSD or depression.

Borderline personality disorder is ultimately characterized by the emotional turmoil it causes. People who have it feel emotions intensely and for long periods of time, and it is harder for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally intense event. Suicide threats and attempts are very common for people with BPD. Self-harming acts, such as cutting and burning, are also common.

The causes of borderline personality disorder are not fully understood, but scientists agree that it is the result of a combination of factors:

  • Genetics. While no specific gene has been shown to directly cause BPD, studies in twins suggest this illness has strong hereditary links. BPD is about five times more common among people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder.
  • Environmental factors. People who experience traumatic life events, such as physical or sexual abuse during childhood or neglect and separation from parents, are at increased risk of developing BPD.
  • Brain function. The way the brain works is often different in people with BPD, suggesting that there is a neurological basis for some of the symptoms. Specifically, the portions of the brain that control emotions and decision-making/judgment may not communicate well with one another.

A typical, well-rounded treatment plan for an individual with this disorder will include psychotherapy, medications and group, peer and family support. The overarching goal is for someone with BPD to increasingly self-direct his/her treatment plan as the person learns what works as well as what does not work.

Learn more at: http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Borderline-Personality-Disorder

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