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Before You Google 'Borderline Personality Disorder,' Read This

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Let’s just say you are sitting at home. It’s an ordinary Saturday morning. Except this ordinary day has changed. It’s not the normal day you had planned and your anxiety is acting up because you are concerned. You put the phone down and your friend tells you they have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Let’s say they have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Before you think of anything related to BPD, let me give you a few things to think about.

Firstly, our first automatic response in a society driven by technology is to research something on Google we know nothing about. Everyone’s guilty of it. Even I have been in the past. What happens when I tell you there are other reliable sources out there that are more reliable than Google itself? I know, crazy to think. But please listen to some valid points I am about to raise when it comes to the dangers of resorting to Google when it comes to mental illness.

Wikipedia’s facts about diagnoses of different mental illnesses are accurate, but don’t always give you answers you need to help someone. I am presuming most people look up things on Google with the intention of understanding and helping others, rather than to boost and comfort their own egos. You might find the symptoms and such attached to the disorders can be a positive start. But an hour later, you are knee deep, scrolling and you have found the “I hate you, don’t leave me” type articles written in the late 80s. These are outdated representations of borderline, as it’s the year 2017 and a whole lot more research and steps forward have been put into place.

A few minutes later, you are finding articles written by ex lovers of people with BPD and reading comments like: “the best thing to do is to never contact them again!! They are crazy.” You see, it’s these attitudes that contribute to creating stigma and barriers to the understanding of BPD and mental illness in general. When people read things like that on the internet, they can become convinced they can’t offer anything to another’s recovery. So the offer you then give them becomes negative in your eyes. Please know this is not true and you can contribute positively. Mental illness needs a better understanding from the community in whole. The more people start learning, the more a positive ripple effect can be built.

You are probably wondering how to achieve this or how you can possibly help if you can’t rely on these outdated articles and narrow-minded comments. If you are someone who cares about every individual’s feelings and well being, then you will consider these following options:

1. Listen.

By now, I am hoping people who read this can agree not everyone’s mental illness experience is exactly the same. Behaviors can be similar and they can relate, but no one person’s experience is going to be the same as the others. So the key to helping is to listen attentively to the person who may be experiencing an episode or opening up to someone about their struggles and what helps them. Usually someone who is in that state is petrified of the other person seeing them like that, so this is the next step to helping someone.

2. Have no judgment.

You have now seen a side to your friend you didn’t know was there. You can be the human being who throws up their arms and rejects the idea of even considering helping this person because of x, y or z. But you could instead be the strong person who sits with them regardless of the fact they have had a change in behavior. Talk them through it, ask them what they are experiencing to change like this. Some people may be experiencing psychosis. If you feel in danger, then medical professionals can assist. If you can stay with them and calm them, then that will help them. The next day, still treat them the same. You may be scared, but you have to remember in these moments, their behaviors are beyond their control.

3. Don’t let them isolate.

I think this is an important step to make someone keep going, especially after a suicide attempt. I have had people cut me off after my own suicide attempts and it was incredibly hurtful. You may never know the pain you will leave someone in if you leave them behind in this way. The way you leave situations is a show of character. To not acknowledge the devastating impact a suicide attempt can have on an individual is hurtful. Be a genuine and authentic person who checks in on someone after they have tried to take their own life. This creates relief for the individual as well as support. No matter what circumstance, sometimes all it takes is a small gesture to make a huge and effective impact on someone in need.

Not letting someone isolate means making them feel included when they are ready to be discharged from hospital after an attempt. Organize time with friends to take them out for food or coffee, go for a walk or just visit them at home. Small things like this aren’t hard to organize. No one should be treated differently after an episode has happened when they have a mental illness. Google may tell stories of people who try to die by suicide to “manipulate” others, which most people with mental illness are not capable of.

These are just small steps you can start applying to your life any time. The main point I am trying to make is Google isn’t always right about everything. If you live by the motto “Well, that’s what Google told me to do, so Google must be right,” you won’t have any room in your mind to help reduce stigma and myths surrounding BPD and other mental illnesses.

Here are some links to helpful websites that can assist you in expanding your perspectives when it comes to mental illness. The Mighty is one I write for and I find comfort in a lot, as the writers are speaking about personal experiences. The more you read up on individual experiences with illness, the better understanding you will have.

Australian BPD Foundation Limited

Project Air Strategy for Personality Disorders

Sane Australia

Suicide Prevention Australia

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via golubovy.

Originally published: March 30, 2017
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