The June 18, 2012 issue of Newsweek Magazine features a cover story on the tragic suicide of Mary Richardson Kennedy, estranged wife of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. This disturbing story of a troubled woman is a reminder of the toll borderline personality disorder can extract from a family.

In the magazine’s report Mary Kennedy represents the extreme faces of BPD. What was exciting, adventuresome, and attractive could turn cruel and dangerous. What was creative and meticulous could mutate into obsession and dependence. Mary struggled with an eating disorder in adolescence. She was active in the Manhattan night life, partying with Andy Warhol and his crowd. She became dependent on alcohol. Attracted to the celebrity luminescence of the Kennedy clan and the impetuous danger of an affair, she began the relationship with Bobby while he was still married. Within the year, Mary, six months pregnant, became his second wife.

This history of recklessness, addiction, and attraction to powerful, often narcissistic, men is often observed in borderline women. Mary Kennedy exhibited many positive and negative prognostic signs in BPD. She was talented, attractive and intelligent, with supportive friends and family. But she was also hostile, aggressive, and alcoholic. Her outbursts of rage and suicidal threats were dramatized in the presence of her children. She physically attacked Bobby on several occasions. When he asked for divorce and continued a series of flagrant affairs, her anger and threats escalated. Court involvement threatened to award custody of her children to Bobby. Ultimately, she hung herself in the barn on the family estate.

Although recent studies demonstrate that BPD usually improves significantly over time, these statistics are haunted by a suicide rate of around 10%. Greater understanding and education about this disorder--its hopeful prognosis, attached to its frightful risk—may encourage victims of BPD (patients and their loved ones) to pursue treatment. As one family friend stated, “I loved Mary…I adored her. I didn’t adore what borderline personality disorder did to her.”

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