In the world we live in today, most people of color are aware of many mental health-related conditions like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
Yet, Borderline Personality Disorder–often shortened to BPD–has been overlooked and can go untreated for years in those who possess the mental illness.
BPD is a mental disorder characterized by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships.
A 2009 published essay written by the British Psychological Society & The Royal College of Psychiatrists, noted the term BPD “was proposed in the United States by Adolph Stern in 1938.”
When provided with treatment and therapy, many people have been able to move forward with their lives and possibly speak out about their condition like NFL free agent Brandon Marshall.
Marshall, drafted as a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos in 2006, has openly spoken about his battle with BPD and living with a mental illness in general.
“I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2011,” Marshall wrote in an essay for The Players’ Tribune. “I remember the doctors gave me a pamphlet on BPD, explaining the signs and symptoms, and I started highlighting the things I had been feeling. By the time I was done, the whole damn pamphlet was yellow.”
Marshall said his entire professional career and adult personal life has been marred with symptoms of BPD, but only through treatment was he able to learn to consciously and effectively deal with the resulting problems of his actions that were influenced by BPD.
In his essay, Marshall recalled his experience with attending a group therapy session during a three-month outpatient program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.
“It was an informal self-assessment session where you were basically supposed to tell the group about what you were feeling and talk about what had happened to you the day before,” he wrote. “We were all sitting in a circle. … I just sat there in shock.
“When it was over, everybody stood up, walked out to the parking lot and got into their cars,” he continued.
“Everybody had just told these hard-core stories about the struggles they were facing, and now, one by one, they were each pulling out of the parking lot and going back into society like everything was O.K.”
The experience not only inspired Marshall to come forward with his condition but also inspired him to create a foundation, Project 375, with his wife Michi in 2011.
“I remember stopping my car at the edge of the parking lot, watching the other cars pass by on the street and wondering how many of the people in those cars — and how many more in this country — were facing similar issues and suffering in silence,” Marshall said. “I decided that I wasn’t going to remain silent.”
Project 375 has a mission to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health by raising awareness and improving care for youth.
It offers a number of options for youth and their families through its Project Prevent program, designed to respond to the needs of children and adolescents by introducing technology-driven support and providing parents, teachers and staff members with Youth Mental Health First Aid training.
According to Project 3275, mental health is an essential part of children’s overall health and directly affects their ability to succeed in school, sports, at home, and in society.
“Our goal is to create improved access to care for students most at risk and in need of mental health services, as well as provide a safer, more supportive environment for all youth,” a brochure for the foundation reads. “We believe early prevention and intervention will save lives. For every one person we educate on mental illness, one less has to suffer from it.”
Dr. Saundra Maass-Robinson, who operates a private practice here in Atlanta (1440 Dutch Valley Pl NE Suite 985), said that the term BPD used to be a “very negative and derisive term.”
“It’s like calling somebody crazy, which to me ‘crazy’ is the ‘n-word ‘in psychiatry,” said Maass-Robinson, who specializes in diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder. “Nobody wants even to say,’ I think I might have borderline personality.’ “Because they already know it’s such a negative, terrible thing. You’ll be further ostracized and shamed.”
Due to BPD sufferers often being characterized as manipulative, Maass-Robinson said that many people don’t even want to admit that they possibly have BPD.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness reported that 1.6 percent of the adult population in the U.S. is affected by BPD, but the percentage may be as high as 5.9 percent.
Nearly 75 percent of people diagnosed with BPD are women, but men may be as equally affected by the disorder but are often misdiagnosed and often end up in the penal system rather than in treatment.
In 2013, Melody T. McCloud M.D. wrote “Borderline Personality Afflicts all Races and Both Genders,” noting that current statistics imply that BPD is more common in White females because women are more likely to report for mental health services.
Men may be more resistant to do so or admit that they need help.
Therefore, there is little data regarding BPD for women and men who are Black or Hispanic.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “only about one-quarter of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40 percent of Whites.”
While that is so, it is vital to remember that BPD can affect anyone regardless of gender or race.
Perry D. Hoffman Ph.D., the president and a co-founder of the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA-BPD) said that BPD has “been misunderstood.”
Hoffman, who started working with sufferers of BPD while working at New York Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains, New York started NEA-BPD with several family members and persons in recovery three weeks before 911 in August of 2001.
NEA-BPD has emerged as the nationally recognized organization dedicated to building better lives for millions of Americans affected by Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
The organization works with families and persons in recovery, raises public awareness, provides education to professionals, promotes research and advocates with Congress to enhance the quality of life of those affected by this serious but treatable mental illness.
Through her research, Hoffman said she realized that people slipped through the cracks of being diagnosed with BPD.
“People were being diagnosed with bipolar or depression,” Hoffman explained. “Unfortunately, there are treaters out there that don’t want to treat people with BPD. So, they’re looking at other diagnoses.”
However, Hoffman did mention that BPD is coming around to “be more well known.”
“We have found that many people are relieved to receive the diagnosis as it explains so much of how they experience life and their emotions,” she added.
BPD resembles bipolar disorder when it comes to significant mood swings and impulsivity, but is different because of consistent patterns of unstable relationships, according to Maass-Robinson. Due to not being able to regulate emotions or flying off the handle, BPD typically results in instability in relationships.
“Individuals with this diagnosis more often than not, do not have stable relationships, can’t maintain them — multiple partners,” Maass-Robinson said. “They experience divorce, multiple marriage divorces, multiple marriages, difficulty holding down jobs because of that mood instability.”
BPD can leave one having a distorted view of themselves.
A book titled, “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me” by Hal Straus and Jerold J. Kreisman MD describes BPD well.
“One minute a person with BPD can love you and the next hate you,” the book reveals.
“BPD sufferers tend to globalize, but the moment they feel abandoned or mistreated, they can look at you as a terrible person.”
BPD sufferers are also often irritated but can take their irritation and anger to the next level, Hoffman explained.
They have trouble with nuances of life, often looking at people and situations as either black or white, there is no between. That can range from lovers, parents, friendships, and even work relationships.
While BPD sufferers can experience intense emotions unexpectedly, Hoffman said that BPD can show up at home, but may or may not show up in workplaces.
Maass-Robinson echoed that sentiment, mentioning that those suffering from BPD could also do well working in IT because it requires less human interactions.
“The causes of BPD are two-fold and it’s what we call the biosocial theory, which means that somebody’s born with a genetic predisposition to emotional vulnerability,” Hoffman said.
A person with emotional vulnerability can have an immediate reaction to something.
This can take a sufferer with BPD longer to return to a healthy state of being. An intense reaction to something can leave those unfamiliar with BPD not knowing how tO effectively interact with someone with the illness.
Hoffman gives an example of such an episode and how it would affect someone suffering from BPD.
“If I’m driving and the driver all of a sudden breaks very quickly for the rest of the car ride, my emotions are high,” Hoffman said. “I want to get out of the car soon cause I’m at a high state of emotions. That’s what it’s like to be emotionally vulnerable.”
According to Maass-Robinson, BPD can often be traced back to a volatile childhood.
“Adults with this diagnosis often have an abysmal childhood experience, unstable, inconsistent parenting, unfortunately, they become the same type of person cause they don’t know how to provide consistent and caring love along with discipline,” Robinson said.
Years of feeling abandonment and even suicide attempts can creep into the lives of those suffering from BPD. As much as 10 percent of adults with BPD end up committing suicide.
Some therapists believe that those suffering from the illness cannot be treated, according to Hoffman.
However, there is hope. Unlike “other psychiatric disorders like depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, that are lifelong disorders, BPD is not,” Hoffman said.
“If people get the right treatment, they can get out of the mental health system,” she added. There is no medication for BPD, but with one of the several treatments, people can live healthy and productive lives.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is the most popular and researched treatment from those suffering from the illness.
Marsha M. Linehan, the psychologist who created DBT, spent a year and a half in a psychiatric hospital when she was in high school and vowed to develop a treatment for those suffering from the illness.
Another treatment option is Mentalization-Based Therapy (MBT) which is a type of long-term psychotherapy.
MBT helps with thinking by helping patients make sense of their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
“It was designed by a man named Dr. John Gunderson who is the father of the disorder and sadly just passed away, but he put the disorder on the map and also did this treatment that’s now growing in value,” Hoffman said.
Sufferers can also speak with therapists, and Hoffman noted that it’s important to click with the therapists.
There are a number of treatment centers here in Atlanta that specifically help those suffering from BPD like
Atlanta Treatment Center for Borderline Personality Disorder (2150 Peachford Rd, Dunwoody).
Hillside Treatment Center (690 Courtenay Drive NE, Atlanta) helps with treatment for children and adolescents seeking DBT. It’s the first child and adolescent residential treatment facility.
Elizabeth Fullerton, associate director for policy and awareness for the NAMI’s state organization in Georgia, said that NAMI helps families dealing with various mental illnesses including BPD, depression, anxiety, and more.
“We teach other family members about resources, how to deal with mental illness, and how to teach others how to deal with mental health issues,” Fullerton explained. “BPD is commonly overlooked, but we’re here with you.
We’re advocating for you. We’re trying to educate everybody else.”
Maass-Robinson said that mental illness does not discriminate and people of color are at risk for BPD just like white people.
Further, Maas-Robinson indicated, effective treatment is available: “as a people, we have, for too long, denied ourselves the treatment we deserve.”