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De-stigmatising Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

My name is Eliza, I am 23 years old, and I was diagnosed with BPD when I was 18. BPD is one of the most stigmatised mental health conditions, characterised by emotional instability, disturbed patterns of thinking, impulsive behaviour and unstable relationships. Because of my condition, I have been stereotyped as ‘over-emotional’, ‘over-dramatic’ and ‘aggressive’, often by people who do not know me and have no knowledge of BPD.

Even the name ‘borderline personality disorder’, or as it is otherwise known, ‘emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD)’, is stigmatising. The term ‘borderline’ is bred from the belief it border-lined psychosis and neurosis. This has now been debunked, and recently there has been a move to rebrand as EUPD. Yet EUPD is equally problematic. I find ‘emotionally unstable’ an over-simplification for an incredibly complicated condition. EUPD also fails to replace the most problematic term – ‘personality disorder’! A personality shapes an identity, and to accept that my identity is ‘disordered’ is hugely invalidating.

In my experience, BPD is not always understood by medical professionals either. I have personally found it difficult to receive consistent care with a clinician who understands the condition, and even when I have, this care is on a temporary basis. I believe clinicians do not want to work with BPD patients because they are too ‘complicated and difficult’. For me, knowing professionals do not want to treat you is a barrier to seeking help. There is also an outdated myth in the medical community that BPD is incurable. This belief gives way to hopelessness, which is highly dangerous in a condition with a 10% suicide rate. BPD is hard to treat, but with the appropriate support people can recover and live fulfilled lives.

I believe that the media portrayal of BPD is also responsible for stigmatising the condition. A recent example is the array of articles attributing Amber Heard’s actions in her relationship with Johnny Depp to her diagnosis of BPD and HPD (Histrionic Personality Disorder). One major news organisation implied people with BPD are inherently abusive and it is a matter of course that they mutilate their partners. What amazes me is this article was in a well-respected newspaper rather than a dingy sub-reddit basement. There are people with BPD who choose to be abusive, and people without BPD who choose to be abusive. The vast majority of people with BPD are not a risk to others and by implying BPD causes one to be abusive is highly stigmatising and categorically incorrect. Being abusive is a choice; BPD is not a choice.

I cannot speak for all people with BPD, but I can express how stigma personally affects me. Firstly, I am concerned that if I reveal my diagnosis to an employer, I will not get a job. The stereotyping around BPD in the workplace is ‘over-emotional’, ‘hard to manage’ and ‘cannot take criticism’. I know if an employer believed this, they would be disinclined to hire me. However, I am forced to reveal my diagnosis because for me to be successful I require disability adjustments. Secondly, following the publicity of the Amber Heard trial, I have been increasingly careful about disclosing my diagnosis. I fear people will assume I am manipulative and aggressive and will not want to associate with me. This is isolating and makes it harder to ask for what I need. Nobody chooses to have BPD and living with it is extremely painful. By raising awareness of what BPD actually means, more people will recover and live successful lives.

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