TIME Covers BPD but Omits the Full Story

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January 17th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

(Click here for more coverage of Borderline Personality Disorder.)

It was a welcome change to see mainstream media paying some serious attention to Borderline Personality Disorder for a change. This week, TIME has a major article (with a blurb on their cover!) about BPD. You can find it at The Mystery of Borderline Personality Disorder. They even mention the latest statistics showing about 18 million people in the US being afflicted with this mental illness. If you’ve been reading our site, you may have noticed our posting BPD prevalence may be 6%, 3 times higher than previously thought on the studies that came to these conclusions a few weeks ago.

For some reason, TIME left about 1.5 columns of the first page of the article just blank, with no text or pictures. And they mentioned very little about how Borderlines affect other people. Nothing is said about high-conflict divorces, distortion campaigns, child abuse, and passing along mental illness to their children via child abuse. That was a major disappointment. TIME only covered a small part of the full story of BPD by leaving that out.

Perhaps they left it out because they know it’s a mistake to vilify people with BPD. They are victims of a horrible illness. Mental health problems should no longer be stigmatized. Nearly everybody has some mental health problem during their lifetime. It may be anxiety or depression which are often temporary and for which many medications are available. Or it may be something far more difficult to treat such as a personality disorder. But it’s not like people choose to be mentally ill. We don’t ridicule people who have cancer? Why should mental illness be any different?

But it’s a mistake to not discuss how people who are mentally ill, especially those with BPD or similar DSM-IV Cluster B personality disorders, are not causing damage to others. Many of those who have BPD are very prone to making big problems for the people around them, especially their families, spouses, children, and ex-spouses or ex-significant-others.

Some Borderlines are not so destructive, however. The ones who are not are often the ones who have overcome denial and are actively working on getting better. They may get upset at those of us who discuss our experiences being on the receiving end of BPD hell, thinking that we view all Borderlines as the same when that is not the case.

It’s important to realize that the hugely destructive Borderlines are still in denial and therefore aren’t getting better, rather they continue to wreak massive destruction on others. This is the reality, but the Borderlines who are not in denial and who are making progress (and therefore are not likely to be so destructive) feel worse about themselves when this reality is discussed. It is especially tough for them because, as mentioned in the TIME article, they are still working on growing an “emotional skin” to allow themselves to better deal with the often unpleasant and inconsistent nature of the world. I’d like to remind these folks that with 18 million Borderlines in the US, there is a massive range of behaviors. Just because some Borderlines are hugely destructive doesn’t mean that all are. They should remember that if they have overcome their denial and are brave enough to be facing their problems and trying to fix them, they are role models for what we’d like the destructive Borderlines to be doing.

Perhaps an analogy may help make this clear. Most of us have known someone who is alcoholic. Many alcoholics have done a lot of damage to themselves and other people. But that doesn’t mean they can’t recover and learn to resist the urge to drink alcohol. The critical steps are that they have to realize they have a problem and then be willing to work hard on fixing it. And when they kick the habit, they often become role models for others who have substance abuse problems. The situation is similar with BPD. We have to face the reality of how destructive this illness is to everybody, but at the same time must positively point out those with BPD who have made good progress. We should give them a big pat on the back for their good effort and hope that they will be willing to help others do the same.

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