Among all of the mental illnesses, research has shown people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) have not only the highest number of suicide attempts, but also the highest rates of completion. Some studies have the numbers as high as 70% of people with BPD will attempt suicide at least once in their lifetime, while many will have multiple attempts and the death rates are estimated as high as 10%. BPD is primarily characterized by unstable emotions, impulsive behavior, unstable sense of self, intense but unstable relationships, repeated sudden and rapid mood swings, self-harm and frequent suicidal thoughts and actions.
I was not officially diagnosed with BPD until last year, but I have been suicidal since I was a child, hence my first attempt at age 8, and subsequent attempts over the years, which I had attributed solely to multiple childhood traumas and the death of my Mom. I knew there was “something ‘wrong’ with me,” but had no interest in finding out what, as it was easier to ignore than to deal with. When I was first diagnosed, I really had no clue what BPD was. I wasn’t sure I was happy being placed into a diagnostic box, until I went home and did some reading and realized these characteristics were all ones I had consistently displayed over the years, especially the suicide and self-harm.
After being diagnosed and realizing I was not the only one with these thoughts, I started doing some reading on the commonality of suicide and self-harm, and why it was so prevalent among individuals with BPD. The same three things came up repeatedly, all which fit accurately with the attempts in my life.
1. Many people with BPD experience extreme emotions, especially negative ones, at a much more intense level than the average person.
It feels somewhat like always having an open wound that, when touched, even gently, causes immense pain. These emotions often become so intense and overwhelming our minds simply can’t process the pain and we sometimes feel like the only way to end the pain, is to end our lives, even if we don’t necessarily want to die.
2. I believe one of the primary and most difficult symptoms of BPD to control is the impulsivity.
This is the tendency to act quickly without recognizing consequences. For me, it feels like the emotional part of my brain has shut down the cognitive, rational side to the point every thought and action then becomes emotively driven, and often that is what triggers the thoughts of suicide and self-harm. Sometimes, recurrent attempts or injuries are the only reasons people with BPD present for help.
3. Recovery from BPD is possible – but it’s difficult and requires access to support.
BPD is chronic, meaning not only does it often last for years, but there are no medications to manage it directly, and those that are prescribed are generally for the symptoms of other illnesses that often present with BPD. The main road to recovery is through therapy, and sadly, for so many people that is not a viable option. Whether it is for personal or financial reasons, BPD often goes untreated, hence the extreme number of suicide attempts.
Suicide is a subject many people are ignorant to only because it has yet to directly affect them. However, if the statistics keep rising at the current rate, it won’t be too long before everyone knows someone who has been affected. A simple conversation could help to save a life, so be the one to start it.