BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder)

BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) is a mental illness that isn't widely spoken about. And, when it is, it's often portrayed negatively. We spoke to Laura Peters, Head of Advice at Rethink Mental Illness, to get the facts straight and give you support.

friends sitting on sofa laughing

You can still have healthy relationships with BPD

What is BPD? 

BPD stands for Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s type a personality disorder that can cause someone to “struggle with processing emotions”, says Laura Peter, the Head of Advice at Rethink Mental Illness.  

“Around one in every hundred people have this illness,” says Laura. “Whilst it affects men and women equally, women are more likely to receive a formal diagnosis, possibly because they are more likely to seek help.” 

How do I know if I have BPD? 

Some symptoms of BPD are: 

  • Having an extreme fear of being abandoned  
  • Having unstable relationships with others 
  • Being really impulsive and reckless. For example, binge drinking, having unsafe sex, or spending lots and lots of money  
  • Self-harm 
  • Experiencing intense emotions and mood swings
  • Paranoia 
  • Suicidal feelings or behaviours  

Why might someone have BPD? 

Like many other mental illnesses, there can be a range of reasons why someone might develop BPD. There isn’t one test or one cause to find an answer. It can be quite frustrating. But some reasons can be: 

  • Traumatic childhood experiences, like emotional, physical or sexual abuse, or neglect from parents 
  • Problems with brain chemicals or development 
  • Genes. Ah, a classic. BPD might be passed on by your family, but there’s no clear evidence for this. 

Can BPD be cured? 

No. Laura says, “Like many mental health conditions, treatment helps people to manage their condition rather than ‘cure’ it. But people can find that with the right treatment and support their symptoms are very manageable and may even disappear.” 

The primary treatment for BPD is psychological therapy, either one-to-one or as a group.  

DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) is a specific type of therapy designed for people with BPD. Its goal is to alter your thinking of seeing your relationships, environment and life in ‘black and white’ which can lead to destructive thoughts and behaviours. 

I think I have BPD, what should I do? 

Talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling and book an appointment to see your GP. Perhaps take a friend or family member with you for support.  

It can be a good idea to write down everything you’ve been feeling or experiencing to talk through with your GP, or you can simply hand them the piece of paper if you find it tricky to talk about. 

If your GP thinks you have BPD, they’ll then refer you to a specialist.  

Why is BPD so stigmatised? 

“People with BPD may be seen as very difficult,” says Laura. “But in fact, people with BPD are very vulnerable because they experience very strong emotions.” 

Instead of seeing the symptoms of BPD as an illness, society has often put the erratic and damaging behaviours down to someone’s personality. It can be hard to navigate this stigma if you have BPD, so it’s important we recognise the illness and give the best support. 

If you think you have BPD, or have been diagnosed, you are valid. You’re not a bad person. Please don’t let the stigma put you off seeking treatment. 

Have a read of Amy’s story of living with BPD. You may feel more encouraged and supported.

My friend’s been diagnosed with BPD, how can I support them? 

“It is important that you learn as much about the disorder as possible,” says Laura, “as it will allow you to better support them, and may help you to understand why they might be acting in a certain way.” 

It can be tricky to find out accurate information about BPD, but organisations like Rethink Mental Illness, Mind, and the NHS have a wealth of accurate, simple information and support.  

The best thing you can always do for someone struggling with their mental health is be there for them. Remind them how loved they are, and how you’ll be there to listen or support always. 

But make sure you look after yourself too. You’re not expected to fix someone’s mental health, and sometimes you might feel quite overwhelmed. Rethink offers lots of great support for friends and family. 

Laura says to remember: “The ability to process and understand our emotions is something that many of us take for granted, but for people with BPD it can lead to angry and intrusive thoughts that can affect your ability to maintain relationships in the long term. The important thing to remember is that having a personality disorder is not your fault, and seeking help for it is neither embarrassing or shameful.”

Find out more about personality disorders.

Next Steps

  • Anyone can contact the Samaritans on their 24-hour helpline to talk things through. 116 123
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers advice and support on mental health. Visit their website or call The Rethink Mental Illness Advice Service on 0300 5000 927, 9:30am - 4pm, Monday to Friday.
  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 15-Feb-2018