Borderline Personality Disorder and Suicidal Thoughts

I’ve experienced suicidal thoughts with borderline personality disorder (BPD), so I thought I’d share my experience and some facts about suicide and BPD. The topic of suicide has received a large amount of attention in the media as of late with celebrity suicides. With the death of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, it’s brought up old experiences and feelings about my own history as a woman living with borderline personality disorder. While I don’t feel this way today, I am no stranger to the feeling of not wanting to be alive. Self-harm, suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts are a part of living with borderline personality disorder. They are a distinguishing symptom when making this diagnosis. In the vein of opening up a conversation about suicide awareness, I’m going to share some important suicide facts and personal experience about suicidal thoughts and borderline personality disorder. Most importantly, I will share my hope.

BPD and Suicidal Thoughts: What Do the Numbers Say?

Like many diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, I have struggled with suicidality for most of my adult life. It’s estimated that almost 80% of those with BPD report a history of suicide attempts and deaths by suicide range from 8-10%. This rate is 50 times greater than that found in the general population.1

It is estimated that approximately 75% of us will also attempt to engage in some form of self-destructive behavior, such as cutting, hitting, hair-pulling, head banging, or skin-picking. Some of this behavior may or may not coincide with being suicidal.1 I’ve engaged in all of these behaviors at one point or another.

Personality disorders are estimated to be present in 30% of the individuals who die by suicide.1 The one time I was admitted to the hospital on a psychiatric hold for a suicide attempt, there were probably five others where I should have been admitted. Borderline personality disorder ooccurso-ocurrs with substance abuse, as it did for me, and this combination increases the risk factor substantially for suicide.1

My intention in writing this is not to be doom and gloom. It’s to say: I am a survivor and you can be too. We can get through this together.

What I Needed from Those Around Me When I was Suicidal

The tricky part about suicidality is that many of us are experts at hiding it. We don’t want to burden our loved ones with these suicidal thoughts from borderline personality disorder. Only my boyfriends and closest family members knew what was going on. Certainly, my colleagues wondered as I was absent for periods of time and I hinted to some of my closer friends.

I can tell you a few statements that didn’t help when I was suicidal:

  • “But you’re so talented and smart and you have everything going for you.”
  • “Get it together.”
  • “It’s selfish to be suicidal. Do you know how many people you’d hurt if you did that?”
  • Silence.

It stung when loved ones who stared at me like a deer in headlights when I told them how I felt. I understand now that they didn’t have the tools to respond to what I was saying, but nonetheless, it was painful.

Suicidal thoughts do not discriminate based on intelligence, educational level, race, or ability. Two Masters degrees did not protect me from feeling suicidal. What I needed in those moments was unconditional support and love.

The right things to say included:

  • “I love you. We love you. You’re going to get through this. You are strong enough. I support you.”
  • “I am here. I love you.”
  • “What do you need right now? How can I be supportive?”

Sometimes, all I needed was someone to give me a really big hug and tell me that they loved me and that I was a valuable human being. Sometimes I just needed those around me to acknowledge that I was in emotional pain. I needed to be allowed to be honest about how I was feeling, without judgment and without the assumption that there was a switch I could hit to make the feelings go away.

What may distinguish a person with BPD from others who are suicidal is that we are often quite vocal about our suicidal feelings. It’s not uncommon for us to threaten suicide and let those around us know, sometimes in big or dramatic displays. The good news about this is we’re less likely to hide it and our comments, even if frequent, should be taken seriously.

There Is Hope for Suicidal Thoughts and BPD

I’ve written on the topic of BPD and recovery. The recovery rates can be high and the treatment prognosis is good. Successful treatment involves learning to use tools to self-soothe and cope with emotional pain so we have other choices than contemplating ending our own lives.

What I need you to know is that I always wanted to be alive, I just didn’t have the tools to cope with the feelings that came my way. I wanted a different path, I just didn’t know there was one. I am incredibly grateful that somehow, I stayed safe all those years despite my suicidal thoughts and BPD.

This too shall pass. If I can get through this, you can too.

If you are currently feeling suicidal and/or are in danger of hurting yourself:

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Also, see the list of suicide helplines and resources on the HealthyPlace website.

Sources

  1. Oldham, John M. Borderline Personality Disorder and Suicidality. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2006.

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