The Ripple Effect of Borderline Personality Disorder

When a person is diagnosed with a mental disorder like borderline personality disorder (BPD), the diagnosis often affects more than just the person who received it. In most cases, it affects the loved ones in that person’s life as well.

Unfortunately, how deeply these effects go and how they can be hindered or treated is hard to say, as there isn’t much research out there on the families surrounding a mental illness like BPD. There are only a handful of therapeutic options available for those suffering along with a person diagnosed with a mental illness.

The Pressures of Caring for Those With BPD

One unfortunate side effect that comes with a mental disorder is that in most cases, family members end up taking on the role of the loved one’s case manager, which can lead them into dealing with very heavy situations that are out of their depth, like intense anger, suicide threats, or even suicide attempts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a person suffering from BPD attempts suicide an average of 3.4 times during his or her lifetime. Seventy-three percent of those diagnosed with the disorder have attempted suicide once and 10 percent have succeeded in ending their own lives.

Because of the immense pressures that come with caring for and protecting a person with an illness like BPD, family members who take on that role are at a much higher risk for depression. They tend to experience a lot of stress due to having an ill relative, stress that breeds things like grief, burden, and isolation. A lot of times, because loved ones are trying to stay afloat, they end up struggling to deal with the symptoms that a person with BPD exhibits.

When it comes down to it, these family members are simply out of their realm. They are taking on a job that they shouldn’t have to take on, one they are untrained to handle, and sometimes, that level of unpreparedness can lead to traumatic feelings.

Finding Help With Stress

On the bright side, these feelings might be worth it in the end. A study about expressed emotion found that the more emotionally invested family members are in a BPD patient’s life, the better that patient did overall in a one-year span.

Seeking out programs targeted at those affected by someone with BPD is imperative to these family members. Programs that stem from the stress-coping-and-adaptation (SCA) method and Dialectical Behavior Therapy have been the most effective.

The SCA model centers on the family member’s strengths, resources and ability to adapt. Dialectical Behavior Therapy focuses on coping methods, learning to accept things and change. With treatments like these — which teach healthy coping mechanisms, communication skills and provide the support of a group — family members can manage their relationships, get the support they need, and learn to balance their lives without feeling overwhelmed by the stress of caring for a loved one with BPD.