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Mental Health Awareness Week: What it's like living with borderline personality disorder as a student

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The 13th-19th May 2019 is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, so we wanted to discuss some conditions that are less well known and raise some awareness about them.

Borderline Personality Disorder, also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, is characterised by emotional instability, intense relationships with other people, disturbed patterns of thinking and impulsive behaviour. Research suggests that up to 80% of people with BPD may attempt suicide at some point in their life and around 10% of people die by suicide.

Image credit: Elisa Riva, via Pixabay

In order for BPD/EUPD to be diagnosed a person has to meet five of these nine criteria:

 

  1. You feel very worried about people abandoning you and would do anything to stop that happening
  2. You don’t have a strong sense of who you are, and this can change depending on who you’re with
  3. You may feel empty a lot of the time
  4. You act impulsively and do things that may harm you such as (binge eating, substance abuse, drink driving etc.)
  5. You have very intense emotions that can last hours or days and change very quickly
  6. You often self-harm or have suicidal feelings
  7. You may find it hard to make and keep stable relationships
  8. You have intense feelings of anger which you might struggle to control
  9. When really stressed you might experience paranoia or dissociation
Treatment and living and coping with the disorder:

 

  1. Mind suggests a number of techniques and self-care for BPD: in the short term – make sure you know the phone number of your nearest crisis team or talk about how you feel with someone you know and trust. If you’re feeling anxious or angry you could exercise to distract yourself, throw ice cubes into a bath so they smash, or punch a pillow.

    If you’re feeling low, you could listen to your favourite music give a pet a good cuddle or wrap yourself in a big blanket and watch something that makes you laugh. Dissociation can be quite unpleasant too, so you could eat something like ginger or drink a cold glass of water to stimulate your senses. If you feel like self-harming you could rub ice over where you want to hurt yourself or take a cold bath. In the long term, you could make a mood diary to try and understand if there are any patterns in your mood or behaviour or create a self-care box for when you’re in crisis.
     
  1. Therapy and support: Various types of therapy can help to deal with anxiety, low moods, distress tolerance and mood regulation such as DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy). The aim of this therapy is to help you understand why you may act in extreme ways in certain situations and that this makes sense. As well as acceptance of feelings, it helps you change your behaviour when you experience distress, this can be done individually or in a group setting.

    Other therapies that may be offered include MBT (Mentalisation-Based Therapy) which aims to help you understand other people’s mental states. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can help you understand how your thoughts and beliefs may affect your feelings and behaviours. Unfortunately, NHS waiting lists are often long in different areas for specific therapies so ask your GP or psychiatrist about these and if there is anything you can do in the short term. You can, however, self-refer to local IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) services. Most universities also offer counselling services of six-ten weeks or mindfulness sessions which can help if you’re on a long waiting list for DBT.
  1. Disabled student’s allowance (DSA): This is an allowance which you may qualify for if you have a mental or physical health condition, to make studying less difficult. You can apply at any point during the academic year if you have a formal diagnosis and the different types of help can include specialist equipment and computer software, a general allowance for things like photocopying, travel allowance or a non-medical helper which may include a support tutor. You can apply here.
 

  1. Medication: There is no specific medication for BPD/EUPD, however, if you’re experiencing a crisis you may be prescribed a sleeping pill or minor tranquiliser to help in the short term. Medication is typically only used for accompanying conditions such as depression, anxiety or psychosis. However, everyone is different and mood stabilisers or antipsychotics may be used if your mental health professional thinks they would help.
 

Misdiagnosis and co-morbid disorders:

BPD is a complicated illness and many people are misdiagnosed with conditions such as Bipolar Disorder, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Psychosis, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Anti-Social Personality Disorder. There is a possibility that you may struggle with more than one of these conditions so if you feel you’ve been misdiagnosed or struggle with other symptoms it’s important to talk to a mental health professional to find a diagnosis that you feel fits you more accurately.

Lorna Connor, a mental health advocate who manages the Twitter account @BeyondBPD18, told us: 

"I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in my penultimate year at university. I’d had a difficult year, with several relationships in my life breaking down. After each one I had gone into crisis, feeling I had no worth, and contemplating ending my life. My GP, fortunately, noted this pattern and suggested I see a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with BPD. This diagnosis was scary but largely felt like a relief. I finally had an explanation for why I kept feeling the way I did, and it opened doors to proper treatment. What I hadn’t anticipated was the stigma attached to this disorder. People assume you’re a bad person, toxic or manipulative when the reality is I feel things so deeply I’d never want to hurt anyone and put them through some of the pain I’ve been through. They also think it makes you over the top or dramatic, when I just can’t control my emotional responses appropriately to the situation. I’d give anything to be able to do so and to feel like I can manage my emotions, but I’m doing the best I can." 

BPD/EUPD is a serious mental health condition that can be very difficult to live with, particularly if you don’t understand why you may behave in a self-destructive way. It is also generally less well-known among students, meaning that it can be largely stigmatised within the student community. However, there are lots of treatment options out there - although you may be waiting a while, there are crisis teams across the country to help you deal with emergencies. University mental health teams are also there to help and may be able to help you get extensions on assignments for you if you’re struggling.

Research has shown that years after treatment, many people no longer meet the criteria for the disorder and symptoms may go into remission with the right help. It’s important to remember that you do not have to struggle alone.

If you think you might have BPD, visit your GP. For more information visit the NHS website.

Lead image credit: Kat Jayne, via Pexels




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