This information is for friends and family who want to support someone living with Borderline Personality Disorder.
Listening to your loved one and acknowledging their feelings is one of the best ways you can support someone. When you can appreciate how a person with BPD thinks, how they hear you, and you can adjust how you communicate with them, it can help you to support them better.
Here are some common questions asked by family and friends:
How can I help?
- Listen to your loved one and acknowledge how they feel. Handling emotions is difficult for someone with BPD, and although you may not see their emotion as valid, it is valid to them.
- Set clear boundaries. People living with BPD often feel insecure, and that they may be rejected or abandoned. Setting a clear expectation of what they can expect from you, and what you can expect from them, can help reassure your loved one.
- Stay calm. It can be difficult to bear the anger your loved one is directing at you, but the best way to make them feel secure and supported in their anger is to stay calm and defuse the conflict calmly.
- Don’t judge. Listen to them but don’t tell them they are overreacting or shouldn’t feel as they do. Whether or not you understand their behaviour or emotions, it is still how they are feeling in that moment and it’s important to acknowledge that.
- Ask your loved one. Ask them how you can help them when they are well, and how to help them when they are not. Ask them what their wishes are in case of emergency. Assure them that you are there for them in this.
How can I learn more about BPD?
It’s important for you to know what BPD is, and what it means for your loved ones. There are several ways you can be more informed.
- Attending appointments with them if they are comfortable can help you understand their situation, and allow you to ask questions from the medical professional.
- Read more about BPD from the larger, national mental health charities: Mind and Rethink. They don’t specialise in BPD but they do have pages on personality disorders. You can also read our pages on BPD.
- The NHS has a page on Borderline Personality Disorder with information on symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. Some of the regional NHS trusts also have pages on BPD.
How do I encourage them to take better care of themselves?
Stress can elevate symptoms, so it is important to encourage wellbeing. Sometimes people living with BPD aren’t able to take care of themselves, they may stop eating or washing, they may stop taking medication, or have days where they fell they can’t cope. Having a care plan in place, with an agreement over treatment, medication and what to do in emergencies can help with the more difficult days. But there are lots of things you can do to help support your loved one to manage their symptoms and wellbeing:
- encourage them to look after their physical health. Getting enough sleep, eating well and spending time outside can all help with wellbeing. Sleep gives the energy to deal with the difficult feelings and emotions, a good diet can keep blood sugar stable which makes a difference to moods, and getting outside and having fresh air is good for the soul as well as the body.
- avoid drugs and alcohol. They may want to use drugs or alcohol to help them cope with difficult feelings or emotions, but in the long run this is going to make them feel worse and prevent them dealing with the problems. Substance abuse can affect their medicaton, and their judgement in making medical decisions.
- make a self-care package. Put some of their favourite things in a box, for them to use on difficult days – a first aid kit for their mental health. It could include their favourite movies, music or books, some inspirational quotes, photographs, blankets, scented candles or anything they feel would be helpful.
- keep a diary of their moods, thoughts and emotions. A mood diary can help them see patterns, or if there are triggers to their moods and behaviours. It can also be useful for their therapy sessions.
What do I do in an emergency?
If your loved one is at risk of hurting themselves or others, call 999 for an ambulance, or take them to A&E. If you have the details of their crisis team or community mental health team, you should have a number to ring. If there is not an immediate risk but you are concerned for their safety or wellbeing, call the community mental health team or crisis team. If you don’t have details of a crisis team, your loved one should contact their own GP.
What if I need support to take care of my own mental health and wellbeing?
It’s important to take care of yourself, the old adage that you can’t pour from an empty cup is true. If you need mental health support you can call Samaritans at any time, free of charge, on 116 123. You can also find lots of information on their website or email them.
If you need ongoing support, there are carers support groups across the UK. You can find information on local groups in our regional support pages. The Carers UK website has a lot of advice and information on support for carers.