Stigma Toward Borderline Personality Disorder Is Improving

People with borderline personality disorder struggle with symptoms that range from fear of abandonment to difficulties with emotion regulation to self-harm. Unfortunately, they’ve also traditionally struggled with another problem: stigma from mental health care providers.

Stereotypically, borderline personality disorder is considered hard to treat, and people with borderline personality disorder are seen by clinicians as “problem patients.”

In reality, people with borderline personality disorder can achieve real improvement with the right treatment. A recent review of studies on the topic found that specialized types of psychotherapy like dialectical behavior therapy are especially effective in treating borderline personality disorder. And multiple studies have come to the conclusion that the majority of people who received treatment for the disorder eventually achieve remission (see, for example, here or here).

The good news is that while people with borderline personality disorder can still face stigma as they make their way through the mental health care system, more and more clinicians appear to be recognizing that borderline personality disorder is not uniquely untreatable. Some evidence for this comes from a recently published study that tracked attitudes toward patients with borderline personality disorder among staff at a mental health clinic from 2000 to 2015.

Over the course of these 15 years, the researchers found a real shift in staff members’ attitudes. In 2000, staff members often described people with borderline personality disorder using negative labels like “attention seeking” and “manipulative.”

By 2015, care providers were much more focused on the ingredients necessary to provide adequate treatment for these patients. They tended to talk about the importance of having a “management plan” and exercising “empathy.”

This change isn’t just good news for people being treated for borderline personality disorder. It shows that even for one of the most stigmatized mental health conditions, attitudes are shifting to come more in line with the scientific evidence. That’s a promising sign for anyone who has experienced mental health stigma, and it suggests that countering stigma can produce real results.