At the SANE Help Centre we receive many calls from people concerned that a loved one may be displaying symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD). About 14% of all traffic to the SANE Australia website is for BPD-related content.
It's common for someone concerned about a family member or friend to want to learn as much as possible about BPD and confirm what is happening to their loved one.
This often leads to searching for information online, and in some cases an assumption is made that a loved one has BPD.
BPD is a complex mental illness which can be difficult to diagnose. There are nine criteria for BPD and to be diagnosed, an individual needs to meet at least five. Two people can meet criteria for BPD that barely overlap yet receive the same diagnosis. In fact, there are at least 151 different symptom combinations, which means people with BPD can behave quite differently to each other.
Another complication with diagnosing BPD is that its symptoms can appear similar to those of other mental illnesses. A thorough, professional assessment needs to be completed to ensure the correct diagnosis is made.
Another important factor to consider is the range of human emotion and traits. Someone can have difficulties with abandonment, anger and self-harm without having a diagnosis of BPD.
All this makes diagnosing BPD a complex process that needs to be undertaken by a mental health professional.
Here some things you can do if you’re concerned about a loved one:
Assuming that your loved one has BPD is often not helpful, as there are a range of possible explanations for people’s behaviour.
Labelling someone without proper diagnosis doesn’t help them seek help and support. It could cause the person to feel judged, and can be stigmatising. Instead, you can express your concerns about the specific behaviour that’s concerning you without placing a label on it.
Encouraging your loved one to seek support is a good place to start. If you feel comfortable expressing your concerns in a non-judgemental and supportive conversation, this is a good starting point. A GP is the first port of call: they can make an initial assessment and link your loved one in with more support.
The power of emotional support is underestimated. It’s one of the most powerful things you can provide to your loved one during challenging times. Providing non-judgemental support and understanding, as well as patience during those challenging times can be really helpful.
Looking after yourself is spoken about a lot, and for good reason. When someone you love has a mental illness, or just behaving in a challenging way, it’s important to look after yourself.
This can be done in many ways. It may mean taking some time to yourself, setting boundaries, spending time with friends or doing things you enjoy.