Mental & Emotional Health

Diagnosing Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder, a serious mental illness, affects six to ten million Americans, according to statistics from New York-Presbyterian Hospital. That’s more than twice the number of people affected by bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. And up to 90 percent of those diagnosed are women; while that may be because women seek treatment more often than men, it’s still a substantial number. Despite its prevalence, borderline personality disorder less widely known than other conditions such as depression. Here, from the experts at the National Institue of Mental Health, is what you should know about the illness:


Most people who suffer from BPD have:

Problems with regulating emotions and thoughts

Impulsive and reckless behavior

Unstable relationships with other people.

People with BPD also have high rates of other disorders, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders, along with self-harm, suicidal behaviors, and completed suicides.


Research on the possible causes and risk factors for BPD is still at a very early stage. However, scientists generally agree that genetic and environmental factors are likely to be involved.

Studies on twins with BPD strongly suggest that the illness is inherited. Another study shows that a person can inherit his or her temperament and specific personality traits, particularly impulsiveness and aggression. Scientists are studying genes that help regulate emotions and impulse control for possible links to the disorder.

Social or cultural factors may increase the risk for BPD. For example, being part of a community or culture in which unstable family relationships are common may increase a person's risk for the disorder. Impulsiveness, poor judgment in lifestyle choices, and other consequences of BPD may lead individuals to risky situations. Adults with borderline personality disorder are considerably more likely to be the victim of violence, including rape and other crimes.

BPD usually begins during adolescence or early adulthood. Some studies suggest that early symptoms of the illness may occur during childhood.

Signs & Symptoms

According to the NIMH, to be diagnosed with BPD, a person must show a persistent pattern of behavior that includes at least five of these symptoms:

Extreme reactions—including panic, depression, rage, or frantic actions—to abandonment, whether real or perceived

A pattern of intense and stormy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often veering from extreme closeness and love to extreme dislike and anger

Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self, which can result in sudden changes in feelings, or the direction of plans and goals for the future

Impulsive and often dangerous behaviors, such as spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, and binge eating

Recurring suicidal behaviors or threats of self-harming behavior, such as cutting