Women are diagnosed more often for many mental disorders, and borderline personality disorder is no exception.
Statistics vary, but James Hall, the executive vice president of the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder, said in an e-mail that in the past, it was thought that “75 percent of all patients were female.”
However, he said this statistic is not completely accurate, since more women tend to get help, so more are diagnosed.
In 2008, Hall said the National Institutes of Health released a study on borderline personality disorder that found that 5.9 percent of the population has it, and the rates in males and females were the same.
Although men and women appear to have the same prevalence rate, the way the disorder presents in each gender might be different.
“As a generalization, women appear more prone to act inwardly with self-injury,” Hall said. “Males are more likely to receive the label of anti-social personality if they should present for therapy.”
Some symptoms include “difficulty managing emotions,” impulsivity, suicidality, self-harm, extreme negative emotions, “chaotic relationships and a very negative sense of self,” he said.
Women who have borderline personality disorder are not necessarily considered more acceptable than men who have the disorder, even though women present more.
“The stigma of this brain disorder can be overwhelming for the sufferer,” Hall said. “Stigma exists with many in the mental health profession, families and the general public, although advocacy efforts are beginning to have positive effects.”
Deborah Partington, a psychologist in Arizona, said that women with borderline personality disorder may show more relationship issues than men.
“Women tend to have frequent relationships, intense relationships that don’t last because peoples’ needs aren’t basically being met,” she said. “It’s difficult to hold down a relationship, mostly because one’s sense of self isn’t strong enough for a relationship.”
There is also the fear of abandonment.
“Either you love me or you hate me; there’s not a whole lot of middle ground there,” Partington said. “If somebody’s attention is turned away from someone, rather than ‘Oh, okay, the phone rang, they’ll get back to me,’ it’s like ‘You hate me’ kind of thing.”
This fear of abandonment can lead to depression in some cases, and some mood disorders like bipolar disorder can be hard to distinguish from borderline personality disorder.
“Sometimes people with a bipolar disorder may seem borderline, and you’d have to really take a good history to determine what is this that I’m dealing with here,” Partington said.
Everyone has some relationship difficulties and other symptoms that can be present in the disorder, but those with a disorder have difficulty functioning on a daily basis and are incapable of handling certain situations in the way people without a disorder can.
“If we’re not borderline and we break up with somebody, we’re going to have certain feelings,” Partington said. “You get over them, you get on with your life. With somebody who has a personality disorder, these are recurrent.”
Borderline personality disorder is not just present after bad situations, though life events can aggravate it.
“It is a personality disorder, which by definition means that it has to have developed over time,” Partington said. “It’s ingrained in the person.”
Extreme cases of the disorder usually require hospitalization, but some people with the disorder can still hold a job, she said.
Those who suffer from borderline personality disorder also generally have more than one burden to bear.
“BPD is rarely, if ever, the sole diagnosis,” Hall said.
For example, substance abuse, mood disorders (including different forms of depression), anxiety disorder and eating disorders can be comorbid with borderline personality disorder.
Treatment options include dialectical behavioral therapy and medication.
“It is a behavioral approach, helping people become more aware of their behavior and to change their behavior,” Partington said.