Popular media and literature about borderline personality disorder (BPD) often speak about the susceptibility of affected individuals to attempt suicide. Can we blame them? The DSM-IV itself defines “recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures or threats” as an identifying characteristic of BPD. Some studies show that as many as 80 percent of people with BPD exhibit suicidal intentions and around 70 percent of BPD patients will attempt suicide at least once.
I carry the weight of a BPD diagnosis.
These numbers, strewn carelessly around the internet like dead leaves on a November day, are ominous and incredibly frightening.
But they make sense, too. BPD is associated with high sensitivity and intense, prolonged emotional experiences. Thoughts can easily escalate to an overwhelmingly painful degree and I know I often want to escape from them at any cost. The most alarming research shows BPD patients are at a high risk for completed suicide. This means people with BPD are approximately 50 times more likely than the general population to die by suicide.
It looms large on the horizon every time a therapist, unwilling to accept the possible consequences of the clinical relationship, turns away a BPD patient.
You’d be surprised how frequently this happens.
Some people plan how they will kill themselves and therefore allow time to change their minds. However, individuals with BPD are likely to engage in suicidal behaviors in a moment of intense emotional pain without fully considering the consequences.
Indeed, every time I’ve tried to kill myself, I’ve surprised myself as much as anyone else.
These figures pop up to haunt me every time my thought process begins its familiar downward spiral.
I’ve experienced suicidal ideation since I was a child. A journal entry from when I was young depicts my conviction that I would die by the age of 14.
At 23, I’m still alive.
I’ve always wanted to be.
I want to live every single one of my dreams and I want to be mindful as I tick off each line on my lengthy bucket list.
Then, why does it feel like I’ve been fated to die by my own hands?
The facts and figures forget we are all unique individuals. Society doesn’t define us or what we do. We can’t be herded together by numbers. We make our own choices. So at the end of the day, what should we learn from these statistics? The take-home from these figures is really to show the severity of the pain experienced by people struggling with BPD. David Foster Wallace’s analogy describes this phenomenon well when he says,
[The person in pain]…will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. …Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror.
Every time you want to tell someone contemplating suicide they are “selfish” or “a coward” or “sinful” or “attention-seeking” — pay attention to the statistics.
You may not be able to empathize with it, but sometimes life can feel more terrible than death.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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