Mental Health: Stigma, Misconceptions, and Research

Picture taken from Pixabay

I started mental health treatment in 2020, and it has been a very interesting journey. I began therapy for my depression and was quickly diagnosed with major depressive disorder, however, I was soon also diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder after spending some time in treatment (I go into a bit more detail about my my experience with receiving the diagnosis and what borderline personality disorder is in a previous post). My first time hearing about BPD was when I joined the blogging community, but when I received my diagnosis, I still didn’t know much about the condition. I decided to do a little research on it and learned a lot. Some of the information was useful and interesting, others not so much. 

One interesting fact I learned is that BPD and bipolar disorder are similar in some ways. In fact, sometimes a person with BPD might be misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and vice versa. One similarity between BPD and bipolar disorder is that people with the condition have a lot of mood swings, sometimes severe mood swings. I’m sure a lot of people have heard statements like “she/he is so bipolar today” before. That of course is a huge misconception that many people have of bipolar disorder. I can’t speak for people with the condition, because I don’t have it, but I do know that people with bipolar disorder don’t flip from being happy to being angry or sad in matter of seconds.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by swings between extreme highs and lows. The moments of extreme highs are called manic episodes and the moments of extreme lows are depressive episodes. In order for a person to be diagnosed with with bipolar disorder, they need to have experienced at least one manic episode, and the episode needs to have lasted at least a week. A depressive episode needs to have lasted at least two weeks. There is also bipolar disorder with mixed episodes (when a depressive episode and a manic episode occur at the same time) and bipolar disorder with rapid cycling (when a person has four or more manic episodes in a year), but these forms of bipolar disorder are also very different from how the general public understands the condition. Changes in mood happen much more swiftly with BPD. A person with BPD can switch from being stable to being completely sad to happy within hours. This is due to the fact that BPD mood swings tend to be influenced by events more than bipolar mood swings are. Bipolar mood swings can happen suddenly with seemingly no trigger. With all this in mind, it would probably be more accurate to say “that person is so Borderline right now”, although it would, of course, still be very wrong to say this too. There are a number of symptoms a person has to be showing before a diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be made, and the same goes for borderline personality disorder. Also, throwing the name of a diagnosis around and making statements such as “I’m so bipolar right now” minimizes the experiences of people who really have the condition.

Another important piece of information I found during my research on borderline personality disorder is that the condition is very stigmatized, even amongst mental health professionals. When it comes to BPD, I think many people fit into two categories: they either don’t know about the condition, or they do and have negative views on it. Although, thanks to the recent Johnny Depp v Amber Heard trial, it is very likely that a lot of people who didn’t know about borderline personality disorder know about it now. The mention of BPD during the trial definitely did not help with the stigma associated with the disorder, only seeming to reinforce the idea that people with BPD are manipulative and should be avoided. In the past, even some mental health professionals would try to avoid people with BPD, considering them too difficult to work with. I even came across a recent article warning people about getting into a relationship with someone who has BPD.

The truth is that mental illness and a borderline personality diagnosis does not equal abusive or vice versa. If a person does happen to have BPD or any other mental illness and is also abusive, their mental illness is not an excuse for abusive behavior. An abusive person is just that: an abusive person. Also, a person with BPD is not a hopeless case. There is a particular type of therapy treatment just for people with the disorder called Dialectal Behavioral Therapy. With treatment and support, a person with BPD can develop the skills they need to live productive lives. 

All in all, one big take away from my research on borderline personality disorder is that views on mental illness are still pretty warped. We’re much more open to discussing mental illness now, however, there is still a lot of misconceptions and stigma around. 

Mental Health 3: The Journey Continues

I always knew I was different from my peers when I was a child. What I did not know was why. A blood test taken during my teen years eventually showed that I have a genetic disorder, and that answered a lot of questions for me. I finally knew the answer to why. Receiving a diagnosis of a mental illness is no different. 

I have been seeing a counselor for a little over a year now. My biggest issue when I started going to therapy was depression, and that was the focus of my sessions. However, as time went on, I started talking with my therapist about other issues outside of my depression as well. Around March this year, my therapist added borderline personality disorder to my major depressive disorder diagnosis. 

The American National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) describes the disorder as thus:

“Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a condition characterized by difficulties regulating emotion. This means that people who experience BPD feel emotions intensely and for extended periods of time, and it is harder for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally triggering event.

This difficulty can lead to impulsivity, poor self-image, stormy relationships and intense emotional responses to stressors. Struggling with self-regulation can also result in dangerous behaviors such as self-harm (e.g. cutting)”. 

People with BPD can be extremely sensitive, and HelpGuide describes having the condition to “having an exposed nerve ending. Small things can trigger intense reactions”. 

After doing a bit of research on BPD, I felt my new diagnosis was accurate and described me in a way. After diagnosing me with BPD, my therapist changed my therapy sessions slightly. Research shows that Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is the most effective therapy treatment for patients with BPD. In fact, DBT was created to treat patients with Borderline Personality Disorder. DBT helps patients with borderline personality disorder regulate their emotions “… – it encourages them to solve their problems. It focuses on skills training to equip clients with tools to effectively cope with their issues. DBT also helps them create long-term goals and work towards it”. My therapist started incorporating some DBT techniques into my therapy sessions, and they have definitely been a helpful new addition to the skills I have already been learning. I feel like a puzzle piece that has been missing a long time has finally been found, and now I have all the pieces I need to reach a place of mental stability soon. 

Life is a journey, and we never really stop learning. My BPD diagnosis is helping on my journey of self discovery the same way my genetic disorder diagnosis did. Answering the “why” questions (why I am I having these problems I’m facing), leads to answers for the “how” questions (I know why I’m having these problems. Now how can I fix them). Now the road to recovery can really begin.

Until next time,

Charli ❤️