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Can a Teenager Have Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) in teens is a complex mental health challenge that requires a multi-pronged treatment approach.

Teens who struggle with BPD find themselves dealing with harsh symptoms that can disrupt many areas of their life. BPD features extreme emotions, intense fear of rejection, a distorted self-image, and trouble getting close to others. Self-harming behaviors are also common in this group.

BPD is a form of mental illness that is sometimes confused with bipolar disorder or some other mood disorder. What sets BPS apart is the very low level of self-worth that fuels the thought distortions and extreme behaviors.

Teens with BPD also struggle with their social life. The compulsive behaviors, mood swings, and outbursts can prevent the teen from forming lasting friendships. These traits can be off-putting to peers, who then distance themselves.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

BPD is a “Cluster B” personality disorder that features erratic, and often dramatic displays of emotions. Beneath the surface are a very low sense of self-worth and an intense fear of being abandoned.

The over-the-top behaviors can cause disruption across a wide swath of the teen’s life. These teens have trouble making or keeping friends, and may engage in substance abuse, risky actions, and compulsive shopping.

BPD can deeply affect those around the teen, such as family members or peers. The constant shifts in mood affect how they treat the people in their life, which can cause strained relationships. Even though they hold a deep fear of being abandoned, their actions end up driving people away from them. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What Causes BPD?

Research has yet to explain how BPD develops. However, there are some risk factors that may play a role. These include:

  • Genetics. Teens who have a close family member with BPD may have an increased risk of developing the disorder themselves.
  • Brain abnormalities. Brain imaging studies have shown certain abnormalities in the limbic region. This is the area of the brain where impulse control and emotional regulation occur.
  • Environmental. Childhood trauma, such as abuse, abandonment, or loss of a parent may be factors in BPD.

When BPD emerges it is best to address it as early as possible. If your teen is showing signs of BPD, make plans to meet with a mental health expert for timely treatment.

Symptoms of BPD

At first, when a teen shows signs of BPD, parents might dismiss the symptoms. This is because teenagers are routinely moody, angry, and insecure. Parents may believe the symptoms are within the range of normal teen behavior and not be too concerned. The symptoms then worsen to a point when the parent can no longer ignore the problem.

BPD is a hard mental health disorder to diagnose, and doctors use great caution when doing so. This is due to the overlap of its symptoms with other mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar, and anxiety. Even the effects of a substance use disorder can be similar to BPD.

Each teen presenting with BPD may have a different cluster of symptoms. The symptoms of BPD may include:

  • Anger outbursts.
  • Paranoia
  • Distorted self-image.
  • Compulsive behaviors, including self-harming, binge eating, and substance abuse.
  • Unstable and stormy relationships.
  • Trouble managing emotions; extreme mood swings.
  • Dissociation, feeling separate from the body or feeling cut off from self.
  • Extreme fear of abandonment.
  • Self-harm.
  • Suicidal ideation.
  • Substance abuse as a coping mechanism.
  • Difficulty trusting others, suspicion.
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness.

Psychiatric Treatment Options for Teens with BPD

When a teen is first diagnosed with BPD, the treatment route will usually start with outpatient services. These treatments help him or her better manage their emotions, such as psychotherapy, joining a support group, and meds. For some teens, outpatient treatment may offer solutions that help them function better at school and at home.

Some teens with BPD, however, have a much tougher path. Living with BPD becomes so hard that a very high number of these teens will attempt suicide, with 10% succeeding. For teens with severe BPD, a residential mental health treatment program provides the best level of care.

Teen residential treatment programs offer a much more tailored and intensive approach to addressing BPD. These programs provide 24-hour support and monitoring, which is important for a teen with suicidal ideation. The treatment elements are designed to help the teen recognize triggers and then learn ways to manage responses.

BPD treatment includes:

  • One-on-one psychotherapy. Psychotherapies for treating teens with BPD include the use of DBT and CBT. DBT is the best therapy for BPD because it teaches emotion regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness.
  • Mentalization-based therapy. This type of therapy teaches teens how to understand their emotions and those of others, and learn proper responses.
  • Group therapy. Peer group sessions allow teens to practice DBT skills training and CBT techniques. The small group sessions offer teens a safe and nurturing space for sharing personal feelings.
  • Medication. Teens with BPD may benefit from mood stabilizers and antidepressants.
  • Family therapy. A key aspect of teen BPD treatment involves their family members. Family therapy assists the family in better understanding BPD and how they can better support their young family member.
  • Addiction treatment. Sometimes a teen with BPD will have a co-occurring substance problem. If this is the case, the teen will complete a safe detox and withdrawal. After detox, they will engage in addiction recovery classes.
  • Complementary activities. Certain activities can help the teen learn how to manage and reduce stress. These might include yoga, mindfulness, art and music therapy.

Learning ways to treat and manage borderline personality disorder is essential for adolescents to achieve a satisfying and productive life.

BNI Treatment Centers Offers Residential Mental Health Treatment for Teens

BNI Treatment Centers is a residential treatment program for teens with mental health challenges. Our program offers decades of experience with teen mental health treatment, including BPD. If your teen struggles with BPD, reach out to our team today at (888) 522-1504.

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