NFL star Brandon Marshall has been making headlines this week after announcing that he has borderline personality disorder. The 27-year-old wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins, who received his diagnosis this past spring, told a press conference Sunday that he wants to be the ‘face’ of BPD.
It’s about time somebody is. While depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder are well on their way to being better understood and even semi-accepted by the general public, BPD remains little-known and even less understood. For a long time, psychiatrists were even reluctant to take on BPD patients, and more reluctant to hand out the diagnosis (or at least uninformed enough about the disease not to recognize it). So…just what is BPD?
It’s estimated that 2% of American adults have BPD, but many are misdiagnosed as bipolar, anti-social or depressed. Perhaps the most famous BPD sufferer, pre-Marshall, is Susanna Kaysen, author of the book Girl, Interrupted, which was made into a movie with Winona Ryder as Kaysen (and Angelina Jolie as her sociopathic side-kick). I read Kaysen’s memoir in high-school and, being the impressionable type, was convinced BPD was the explanation for all my mostly-normal teen angst (for many years, I read everything about BPD I could find).
BPD symptoms include:
- Difficulties with interpersonal relationships
- Intense moodiness
- Intense fear of ‘real or imagined’ abandonment, and ‘frantic’ efforts to avoid it
- A pattern of ‘black and white’ thinking that can lead to dramatic switches between idealizing a person, place or thing and devaluing or despising it
- Instability of self-image
- Depression and suicidal thinking
The disorder got its name because it was once thought to be on the ‘border’ of ’neuroses’ (like depression and anxiety) and ‘psychosis’ (like schizophrenia). A review of the disorder published in the New England Journal of Medicine this past May noted that the suicide rate in people with BPD is as high as 10%.
While BPD was once thought to only manifest in people who’d experienced early childhood abuse (particularly sexual abuse) or abandonment, more recent research has found that while this may be common in people with BPD, it’s certainly not a prerequisite.
What’s particularly interesting about Marshall wanting to publicly represent the disease is that BPD has historically been considered a lady thing. About 75% of those diagnosed with BPD are women— which may be because it’s really that much more prevalent in women, or may be because women who exhibit BPD signs are more likely to be diagnosed with it while men who do are more likely to receive more ‘masculine’ diagnoses like anti-social personality disorder.
If you’re interested in finding out more about borderline personality disorder, I suggest checking out this NEJM guide, or The Buddha and the Borderline, a memoir published in 2010 by Kiera Van Gelder. I personally disliked the book—I found Gelder extremely unsympathetic—but it does provide a really in-depth look at what life with BPD can be like, for both those suffering from it and those around them.
Photo: The Good Men Project