May: National Borderline Personality Awareness Month

Carol M. became a mother in 1994. Her daughter was born in late July, when the weather liked to turn suddenly, from hot and sunny to thunderous and stormy on a dime. She laughed as she described her daughter, Shasta. “She was just like summertime,” she said. “Bright and happy one minute, dark and storming the next, even as a little girl. Beautiful and big-spirited.”

Around Carol’s living room, there were framed photographs of Shasta—grade school pictures for each year, and others, her daughter crouching in a bed of flowers at Easter, sliding down a hillside with cousins in the snow. “She had a hard time getting along with some people … a lot of people,” Carol said,” but that’s just how she was. I knew she was particular, but I never thought for a minute that she might have a mental disorder.”

Shasta had left home for college but dropped out and moved home at the end of her second semester. She cried all the time and couldn’t get out of bed for a while. She’d raged even at her father by then, the one person who’d always been able to sooth her, and even Shasta did not know why.

“She’d cry to me sometimes,” explained Carol. “She didn’t understand what made her the way she was.”

When Shasta was barely 20, Carol had come home to find her daughter dead. She had threatened to harm herself before, but nothing had come of it then. This time, Shasta had succeeded in taking her own life. Shasta’s therapist had been as surprised as the family; despite the moodiness and depression, no one had expected this.

The loss of their daughter nearly drowned them in sorrow, but a year after her death, Carol began to research. She attended a 12-week program for family members put on by the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder, and now volunteers her time helping the loved ones of sufferers.

Facts about Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a common mental health challenge—occurring as frequently as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder combined—though it is historically less understood.

The disorder is marked by extremes in emotionality, most notably affecting social relationships with loved ones and in the workplace. Emotional dysregulation, self-harm, depression and suicidality — these are the markers of BPD, a deeply challenging disorder for both sufferers and loved ones. BPD is the third leading killer of women aged 15 to 24, and one out of 10 adults with BPD die by suicide. There are 14 million adult sufferers in the United States.

As a result of the work of patients, families, researchers and healthcare providers, in 2008, the House of Representatives voted to make May National Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month, thereby ensuring more recognition comes to this serious public health concern.

While BPD is a serious disorder, impacting millions of lives—sometimes lethally—research has revealed that the disorder is not, in fact, as grim as many other mental health challenges. BPD sufferers can recover; there are effective treatments to help them heal.

Raising Awareness and Ending Stigma around BPD

National Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Month is as much about educating people on the realities of the disorder as it is about dismantling the intense social stigma around BPD. Mental health sufferers have long faced stigmatization, but perhaps none greater than those with BPD—even from inside the mental healthcare profession.

Greater understanding helps to reduce stigma, so share this article or others on the subject and do your part to spread awareness about BPD.