Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is one of the most stigmatised and misunderstood mental health illnesses. People with the diagnosis of BPD are among those with the highest levels of unmet need in Australian mental health services.
They are often put in the ‘too hard basket‘ and they, and their families, report difficulties in accessing the mental health services they need.
People with BPD typically find it hard to feel comfortable in themselves and have problems controlling their emotions and impulses and relating to others. Between 1-4 percent of the population is estimated to have a BPD diagnosis and around 20 percent of patients admitted to psychiatric hospitals have BPD.
There is an important gendered component to the disorder with women being three times more likely than men to be diagnosed with BPD. Labels like ‘emotional’ and ‘difficult’ women affect the ability of service providers to deliver quality care, and also the self-esteem of women working through their diagnosis.
Challenging the status quo
Women’s Health Matters identified that women in the ACT with BPD and their families had difficulty finding local health professionals, support services and programs that specialised in BPD. ACT women told us it was difficult to find resources and information focussed on women and that didn’t feel stigmatising.
Service providers who support these women were also challenged. Many told us they struggled to work effectively with those diagnosed as they did not understand BPD.
A majority of women we spoke with reported they had experienced stigma and misunderstandings of the disorder when dealing with services and a majority of service providers reported they had witnessed this behaviour.
Given the social and economic costs, and in the knowledge that with appropriate treatment people diagnosed with BPD have a high recovery rate, we saw this as a critical health gap to be addressed.
Women’s Health Matters conducted ground-breaking research into ACT women living with BPD. We consulted and collaborated with women diagnosed with BPD, their families and service providers.
Our approach of engaging directly with women in the ACT to hear their lived experiences of BPD was the first of its kind. The women told us that what they wanted was better access to resources and information for themselves and their families as well as access to appropriate treatment.
The families of those diagnosed with BPD and the service providers also told us they felt ill-equipped and expressed a need for more resources to better inform and support them to support the women with BPD.
In response Women’s Health Matters developed and funded the website Borderline in the ACT for women with BPD, their families and service providers. The site aims to reduce the stigma and confusion that often comes with the BPD label and was informed using the voices and lived experiences of the women.
The site has proven to be very popular, drawing traffic from across Australia and around the world.
Through our collaboration with Natalie Malcolmson from BPD Awareness ACT—a Canberra service established to share the latest global research, knowledge and evidence-based programs about BPD—we also developed and funded training sessions to support service providers to work more effectively and appropriately with women with BPD. There was strong demand and our first training session was over-subscribed, leading to a second session.
We continue to consult and collaborate with relevant voices in order to break down mental health stigmas and barriers to services and treatments, and to collaborate with BPD Awareness ACT including about the potential for future work with women in the Alexander Maconochie Centre.