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Borderline Personality Disorder is one of ten personality disorders recognised by the DSM IV.

A personality disorder is a type of mental illness and to be diagnosed particular criteria must be met. With personality disorders, the symptoms have usually been present for a long time. These symptoms have an overall negative affect on the sufferer’s life.

One of the core signs and symptoms in BPD is the proneness to impulsive behaviour. This impulsiveness can manifest itself in negative ways. For example, self-harm is common among individuals with BPD and in many instances, this is an impulsive act. Sufferers of BPD can also be prone to angry outbursts and possibly criminal offences (mainly in male sufferers) as a result of impulsive urges.

Another common feature of BPD is affective lability. This means that sufferers have trouble stabilising moods and as a result, mood changes can become erratic. Other characteristics of this condition include reality distortion, tendency to see things in ‘black and white’ terms, excessive behaviour such as gambling or sexual promiscuity, and proneness to depression. (To learn more about symptoms and diagnostic criteria please go to the section on diagnostic criteria.)

These traits can sometimes make it very difficult for a person to maintain a relationship with someone with BPD as their behaviour and actions can be difficult to tolerate and hard to understand. It is important for persons close to a BPD sufferer to educate themselves on the condition so they can empathise with what the sufferer is going through and how they are feeling.

BPD is not usually diagnosed before adolescence. It has been suggested that BPD symptoms can sometimes improve as time goes on or even disappear all together. This is not always the case however as BPD can continue to affect sufferers well into later life.

Traits from other mental illnesses and psychological conditions from the DSM IV can often co-exist in BPD patients. These are usually anxiety disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression).

Is Borderline Personality Disorder a mental illness?

Yes! A mental illness is an illness that affects a person’s behaviour primarily rather than their physical well-being. BPD is considered by medical practitioners to be a severe psychiatric disorder. It is recognised as such by the DSM IV.

Mental illness is often not taken as seriously as physiological illness even though it is very common and can be very debilitating. It is often viewed as moodiness, craziness or a weakness when it is in fact a genuine illness that can be caused by physiological factors. People have as much control over developing a mental illness as they do over catching a cold. Like physical illness, mental illness needs treatment and is not something that someone can just will to go away.

Why the name Borderline?

The name borderline was coined by Adolph Stern in 1938. This name was used to describe patients who were on a ‘borderline’ between neurosis and psychosis. However, the symptoms of BPD are not so simplistic as to be defined in terms of neurotic and psychotic. The diagnosis of BPD is based upon signs of emotional instability, feelings of depression and emptiness, identity and behavioural issues rather than signs of neurosis and psychosis. However, the name Borderline has remained even though the definition has changed. Throughout Europe, the same disorder has been given the more appropriate and less misleading title of ‘Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder.’