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Borderline personality disorder: Warning signs

Karen Hawthorne is a health and lifestyle writer and producer in Toronto, Canada. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications including Glow, Homemakers, BestHealthMag.ca and the National Post.

What is borderline personality disorder?

Recent headlines about Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall have drawn attention to a condition known as borderline personality disorder (BPD). Marshall, known for his temper on and off the field, and an alleged stabbing by his wife earlier this year, revealed that he has suffered from BPD throughout his five-year NFL career. What is BPD and how do you spot the signs?

Woman with borderline personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder is not as well-known as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, but BPD is actually more common, affecting as many as two percent of adults. The mental condition causes emotional instability that leads to stress and many negative behaviors. Why?

Confused sense of self leads to conflict

Remember the character played by Glenn Close in the movie Fatal Attraction? A dramatized example of BPD. people who suffer BPD have a distorted sense of self, characterized by low self-esteem and self-loathing. They can often see themselves as worthless or evil -- then the next moment they feel as if they don't exist at all. Or they feel unfairly misunderstood, mistreated or empty, so they turn on themselves and others. The BPD sufferer wants loving, close relationships, but her highly unpredictable and erratic behavior pushes people away. The defining characteristic of BPD is a pervasive instability in the person's life, with frequent changes in jobs, relationships, goals and values.

Mood swings common with borderline personality disorder

A person with depression or bipolar disorder may endure the same mood for weeks and weeks. But BPD sufferers may have intense bouts of anger, anxiety or near-suicidal depression that can last an hour or a day. These bouts can lead to impulsive behavior – aggression, self-injury and drug or alcohol abuse. A 2008 article in Scientific American cited that this mental illness accounts for up to 10 percent of patients in psychiatric care and 20 percent of those who have to be hospitalized.

Warning signs of borderline personality disorder

According to the Mayo Clinic, BPD symptoms may include:

  • Impulsive and risky behavior, such as risky driving, unsafe sex, gambling sprees or illegal drug use
  • Strong emotions that wax and wane frequently
  • Intense but short episodes of anxiety or depression
  • Inappropriate anger, sometimes escalating into physical confrontations
  • Difficulty controlling emotions or impulses
  • Suicidal behaviour
  • Fear of being alone

What causes borderline personality disorder?

As with many mental and emotional disorders, the causes of BPD aren't fully understood. The Mayo Clinic outlines factors that likely play a role, including the following:

  • Genetics. Some studies of twins and families suggest that personality disorders may be inherited.
  • Environmental factors. Many people with BPD have a history of childhood abuse, neglect and separation from caregivers or loved ones.
  • Brain abnormalities. Some research has shown changes in certain areas of the brain involved in emotion regulation, impulsiveness and aggression. In addition, certain brain chemicals that help regulate mood, such as serotonin, may not function properly.

Psychotherapy is the core treatment for BPD, and medications can help control symptoms and associated problems, such as anxiety and depression.

More on mental health

Bipolar disorder: Do you keep it secret?
A holistic approach to healing depression
What your man needs to know about depression

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