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Melody T. McCloud M.D.
Melody T. McCloud M.D.

Borderline Personality Afflicts All Races and Both Genders

Government agencies need to secure and report updated BPD data.

Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental disorder that causes much emotional pain to the sufferer, and to those in that person’s life. “Borderlines” (we so need another term) have emotional instability, often overreacting to the smallest of things. Interpersonally, they have abandonment and trust issues. They have an inconsistent self-image, inappropriate rage, chaotic relationships that mostly end badly, and some self-injure or are suicidal. And that’s just for starters.

BPD can occur in “normal” families, although, in today’s world, what’s “normal” may be a matter of debate. But statistics and clinical analyses indicate that many BPD cases develop in families with some degree of "abnormality," dysfunction, or psycho-social-structural challenges—whether real or simply perceived by the one afflicted. (For more, see BPD: Who's at Risk.)

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) per the National Institute of Health (NIH) states on its website that the prevalence of BPD is “1.6% of the adult population” as they cite a 2007 study. According to many sources [links below], BPD affects approximately 1-6% of the population. I tend to lean toward at least 6%, (maybe even up to ten percent). But 6% equates to ~14 million Americans; that is not a small number. Specifically, according to the National Education Alliance of Borderline Personality Disorder (NEABPD):

  • BPD is more common than schizophrenia and bipolar disorder
  • BPD affects up to 5.9% of adults
  • 20% of inpatients admitted to psychiatric hospitals have BPD
  • 10% of outpatients have BPD
  • 10% of adults with BPD commit suicide
  • 55-85% of adults with BPD self-injure their bodies
  • Heritability of this illness is estimated to be up to 68%

Current statistics also imply that BPD is more common in females… white females. This may solely be due to the fact that women are more likely to report for mental health services, while men may be more reluctant or resistant to do so. As a result, available data is not necessarily a true depiction of the disorder’s incidence and prevalence and we all need to remember that men and other races also suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder.

I periodically search many government sites for data; but, about BPD, there is little to no data—certainly no current data, and no data regarding men, women nor comparative data for “special populations” of Black, Hispanics, and others. (The only “special population” bar graph pertains to 2002 data of “inmates with mental health problems,” reported in 2004). Hmmm. Compared to extensive current data provided on government sites for other ailments—think diabetes, cancer, heart disease, STDs—there are basically no bar graphs, no discussions, no links that directly point to current research and data about BPD.

Per my request, researchers at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) are “looking into” what, if any, current data they might have on BPD. (As a physician and as one who met an otherwise funny and wonderful man who, alas, is positive for all nine BPD criteria and refused to get help, I have a two-prong perspective of, and experience with, the disorder.)

Because of my experience with the previously-undiagnosed BPD sufferer who has so much emotional pain, I became an advocate for increasing awareness of BPD. I applaud the tireless efforts of Dr. Perry Hoffman at the NEABPD, and my colleagues Dr. John Gunderson and Dr. Blaise Aguirre and their staff at McLean Hospital in Boston and many others. I also applaud the NFL’s Brandon Marshall who, in July 2011, bravely shared with the world that he has BPD.

Given the void of current official national data, efforts must be made to further advance the public discussion of BPD, especially in the hallowed halls of our government’s health agencies. This year, as time permits, I will work to bring attention to the lack of BPD data and discussions within HHS, the NIH and the CDC. I encourage them to determine the incidence of BPD in men, and I also want there to be a concentrated nationwide effort in high schools and colleges on BPD awareness.

I encourage others to work within your own community—connect with city and county health departments. Another place of opportunity is with health officials at colleges, including HBCUs because I am also concerned that Blacks may have a higher risk of BPD, given the oft-contributing factors regarding family dynamics and the sometimes-fractured family structure. If present, many are undiagnosed. (I once spoke about this on the nationally-syndicated Tom Joyner Morning Show and the response was dramatic, as people recognized the symptoms in some family members, but didn’t have “a name” for what their loved one was doing. Of course I suggested evaulation.)

There is treatment to manage BPD, but a diagnosis must come first. I respectfully encourage our government agencies to designate staff and funds to advance the study of the prevalence and incidence of BPD in this country because what data they have posted online is old, and many important and needed measurable parameters that would prove helpful to increase awareness of BPD are non-existent or not yet reported. Given the ongoing public discussions of mental illness, don’t let BPD be left further behind.

For more posts on this subject, including signs and symptoms; and BPD in men, see: Borderline Personality Disorder: Who’s at Risk, What Sufferers Do (See Parts 1 & 2); Borderline Personality Disorder in Men? It Happens. BPD Fact Sheet at NEABPD. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI).

Copyright 2013 Dr. Melody T. McCloud.

About the Author
Melody T. McCloud M.D.

Melody T. McCloud, M.D., is an obstetrician-gynecologist and the author of First Do No Harm: How to Heal Your Relationships Using the Wisdom of Professional Caregivers.

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