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'It's not a life sentence': Experts discuss Pete Davidson, borderline personality disorder

Experts applaud Pete Davidson for his continued candor about life with borderline personality disorder.
/ Source: TODAY

"Saturday Night Live" star Pete Davidson certainly isn’t afraid of being honest about living with borderline personality disorder (BPD). After a hiatus from social media following his split with Ariana Grande, he returned to Instagram with a message about mental health and bullying.

“I’ve been getting online bullied and in public by people for 9 months. I’ve spoken about BPD and being suicidal publicly only in the hopes that it will help bring awareness and help kids like myself who don’t want to be on this earth,” he wrote. "No matter how hard the internet or anyone tries to make me kill myself. I won’t. I’m upset I even have to say this."

Experts applaud Davidson for being open about borderline personality disorder.

“It certainly can have an effect of destigmatizing (BPD). Someone who thinks they are untreatable or overly emotional or damaged might see this and look up what the symptoms (are) and seek treatment,” Sophie Lazarus, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told TODAY.

Davidson’s candor also helps people to understand him better.

“What he did with this public disclosure is just trying to help people have a little context (about his behavior),” Dr. Michael Thase, director of the mood and anxiety program at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told TODAY.

What is borderline personality disorder (BPD)?

Lazarus said Davidson is helping other people understand borderline personality disorder, which affects 1.6 percent of the population according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.

“Personality disorders are a whole different class of disorders than mood disorders," Lazarus said. “Personality disorders are more pervasive patterns of ways that people see the world and interact with it and see themselves.”

Borderline personality disorder has symptoms that overlap with other disorders, which can make it confusing to understand.

“The name comes from the fact that people with this condition have symptoms that fluctuate around the borders of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression,” Thase said. “You have to meet the definition of a personality disorder in that it really defines your personality."

Borderline personality disorder symptoms and treatment

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with borderline personality disorder experience a combination of symptoms, including:

  • Avoiding real or imagined abandonment
  • Having a pattern of intense and unstable relationships, which swing from extreme closeness to great dislike
  • Holding an inaccurate view of self
  • Engaging in impulsive and dangerous behaviors
  • Participating in self-harm, such as cutting
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feeling empty
  • Experiencing intense and changeable moods
  • Feeling inappropriately angry or struggling to control anger
  • Having a hard time trusting someone and irrational fear of others
  • Feeling disassociated from one’s self

Borderline personality disorder looks different for each person so not everyone would experience all the symptoms.

Even though personality disorders are chronic, they can be treated with various forms of therapy, including dialectical behavioral therapy — which involves both group and personal therapy with coaching calls — and mentalization-based treatment. People with BPD might also take medication, such as some mood-stabling drugs, but there’s not a specific protocol for it.

“At this moment there is no one medication that treats borderline personality disorder,” Lazarus said. “There is evidence that symptoms of BPD can decrease over time. It is certainly not a life sentence.”

Lazarus said increasing awareness remains important.

“Borderline personality disorder comes along with a lot of distressing symptoms, problems with understanding your identity, difficulty in interpersonal experiences, suicidality. It is not the person’s fault. It is because of environmental and biological factors,” she said. “People with personality disorders are really demonized.”