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The Burden of Borderline Personality Disorder - Part 1

Wednesday, May 10, 2000 at 10:08 AM

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Mental Health experts estimate that as much as two percent of the US population suffers from the mental illness known as Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD. It accounts for about one-fifth of the people being treated on psychiatric wards. Women are three times more likely to suffer from this illness as men. Doctors have studied the condition under various names since the 1940's, but they don't know exactly why it develops, nor do they have a cure. Recently, 90.3's Lorna Jordan attended a conference about Borderline Personality Disorder put on by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill - Cuyahoga County.

Lorna Jordan- BPD patients can cry for no apparent reason. They tend to look at situations and people as either good or bad...black or white. Their moods can fluctuate by the minute from rage to extreme highs for no apparent reason. They threaten suicide and slash or burn parts of their bodies...A vivacious in her 30s woman we’ll call Mary says she has suffered…

Mary- There are cuts up and down my arms, if you could imagine an arm, the cuts up and down my arms, the scars, like some of them have been really bad where I needed stitches. I have some on my leg. I wrote this guy’s nickname in leg because he broke up with me and then I did one on my ankle with this other guy that broke my heart.

LJ- Self-mutilation is one of the signs of Borderline Personality Disorder. But patients suffering from BPD fear abandonment above all else. They almost always have a bad self-image. They are like mirrors relying on others for their own image. If someone praises them, they can feel good about themselves, if someone derides them, they are all-bad. This creates poor interpersonal relationships. Impulsive behaviors are also part of the profile. Many people suffering from this disease become addicted to alcohol and drugs...or suffer from anorexia and bulimia.

Many BPD Patients try to commit suicide or make gestures toward suicide as a cry for help. Dr. Cynthia Vrable is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University. She says there are a number of reasons that BPD patients are at such a high risk of suicide…

Cynthia Vrable- Many of them have chronic feelings of suicidality and this probably relates to many things and most of all to the suffering. These are people who are constantly being thrust about by strong affects, strong anger, they have very chaotic relationships and so they are suffering and oft times it seems like the suffering is so great that they can’t go on. About eight to ten percent of them commit suicide, many more attempt than commit suicide, but in my mind it’s the suffering.

LJ- Vrable says BPD patients have largely been stigmatized by mental health profession. Many psychologists and psychiatrists don’t want to treat these patients because they can be difficult to deal with.

CV- They have a lot of emotion, they have a lot of anger which they project onto us. and many times that anger keeps us from seeing this as an illness and I think that’s the key. This is not a lifestyle choice, it’s no a weakness of character, it’s an illness with both biological and developmental underpinnings. And the person is not choosing to be this way. No one would choose to suffer like this if they had the choice.

LJ- Lisa Groves suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. She is a demure woman in her thirties. After her talk at a recent symposium, she sits nervously answering questions.

Lisa Groves- Flashbacks are pretty severe with me...nightmares… self-mutilation, I do cut myself, also my socialization skills stink, communication skills I’m not real good at even though they are getting better. I have a real hard time around people. I tend to push people away. I don’t like people to get too close. I don’t like to ask for help, I grew up taking care of myself and I think I can take care of myself now so I don’t like to ask for help.

LJ- No one knows exactly why patients suffer from this illness. Early losses in a family are common in those who suffer from BPD. Well over half of these patients have been physically or sexually abused as children and many were otherwise were neglected. Other patients are simply temperamentally mismatched with their parents. And some doctors argue there is a biological component as well.

The men and women who suffer from this illness may not care how they got the disease. They’re focused on just finding a way to get some relief from it’s symptoms. In Cleveland, I’m Lorna Jordan for 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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