Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms Differ for Men and Women

Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms Differ for Men and WomenThe symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD) can differ substantially for men and women, according to the results of research conducted by two American universities.

Borderline personality disorder is an emotional dysregulation-based condition known for its ability to appear in substantially different forms in affected individuals. In a study published in January 2015 in the Journal of Personality Disorders, researchers from the University of Minnesota, Harvard University and Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital assessed the most typical differences between the symptoms of BPD found in women and the symptoms of BPD found in men. These researchers identified some more or less expected distinctions between the two genders, as well as some fairly unexpected distinctions.

Possible Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms

Under criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), any given person can have a total of nine BPD symptoms. These symptoms are repeated involvement in impulsive and possibly damaging behavior, an entrenched fear of real or imagined abandonment by others, a tendency to alternately idealize and demonize others in personal and social relationships, an inability to develop a consistently strong sense of self, dysfunctional mood swings, outbursts of anger that don’t make sense in given circumstances, recurring feelings of loneliness or emptiness, the onset of bouts of mental/emotional detachment or paranoia when subjected to stress and repeated involvement in self-injuring behavior or overtly suicidal thoughts or actions.

APA criteria require the simultaneous or overlapping presence of at least five out of the nine possible symptoms before a doctor can make an official BPD diagnosis. Since the potential symptoms are highly diverse in their internal effects and social/interpersonal consequences, any given person affected by the disorder may have problems that bear little resemblance to the problems experienced by other people with BPD. Borderline personality disorder occurs in roughly as many American adults (1 percent to 2 percent) as two other well-known, severe mental health problems: bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Women are diagnosed with the disorder about 200 percent more often than men, although men may actually have substantially higher chances of developing BPD than this statistic indicates.

Associated Mental Health Issues

Very few people with borderline personality disorder are unaffected by other diagnosable mental health problems, the National Alliance on Mental Illness notes. Roughly 70 percent of all individuals with BPD have a form of relatively mild or moderate depression known as persistent depressive disorder or dysthymia. In addition, roughly 60 percent of all individuals with the disorder have symptoms of the more severe form of depression known as major depression. Other mental illnesses found in a substantial minority of BPD-affected people include substance use disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, eating disorders (binge-eating disorder, anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa) and bipolar disorder.

Different Manifestations for Men and Women

In the study published in the Journal of Personality Disorders, the University of Minnesota and Harvard-affiliated researchers used information collected from 770 adults diagnosed with borderline personality disorder to see if the condition typically appears in different forms in men and women. Out of these study participants, there were 559 women and 211 men ranging in age between 18 (the usual minimum age for a BPD diagnosis) and 65. All of the participants self-reported the symptoms associated with their particular cases of borderline personality disorder, as well as the presence of any additional mental health concerns.

After comparing the data from the two genders, the researchers concluded that women commonly develop BPD symptoms that differ substantially from the symptoms commonly found in men. Examples of the distinguishing characteristics of the disorder in women include a higher overall number of symptoms, a greater tendency toward depression-related and anxiety-related symptoms, more severe disruptions in the ability to maintain stable relationships with others and a rate of eating disorder exposure that’s even higher than the rate found among women in general. Conversely, men with BPD have meaningfully higher chances than women of developing the symptoms of antisocial personality disorder, as well as somewhat greater risks for the development of narcissistic personality disorder.

Interestingly, the researchers also concluded that some gender-related differences in mental health found in the general population do not tend to occur among men and women affected by borderline personality disorder. Examples of normally gender-centric problems that occur roughly equally in men and women with BPD include panic disorder, substance use disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and suicide. In addition, men and women with BPD have unusually small gender gaps for two other conditions: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression.