The stigma toward BPD


In response to Dr. Mark Zimmerman’s article, “Improving the recognition of borderline personality disorder” (Current Psychiatry. October 2017, p. 13-19), I think the topic of improving the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) requires us to examine our own biases and stigma toward this diagnosis. Let’s be honest: many psychiatrists don’t make the diagnosis because they don’t want to give their patient that diagnosis and they don’t want to treat a patient with that diagnosis. Evidence suggests that a great proportion of stigma aimed at BPD is initiated by mental health professionals.1,2

Why all the stigma? Because mental health professionals don’t have complete information. The assumption used to be that BPD was “intractable” with no treatment. Even if this were true, it still would not be a reason to fail to disclose a diagnosis, because in other fields of medicine, the concept of “therapeutic privilege” fell by the wayside long ago. However, we now know that in many individuals with BPD, symptoms improve over time, and there are several effective treatments.

In DSM-II, published in 1968, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was characterized as an “obsessive compulsive neurosis.” It was not reclassified as the current OCD diagnosis until DSM-III-R was published in 1987, after the FDA approved clomipramine. Why is this important? Because once people realized that there was a treatment, they started acknowledging OCD more often.

The first step in addressing the stigma toward BPD is that mental health professionals must recognize their own bias toward this diagnosis. We must be re-educated that this diagnosis carries hope, symptoms improve, and that there are effective treatments. This is how professionals will increase the recognition of BPD.

Michael Shapiro, MD, FAPA
Assistant Professor and Compliance Officer
Department of Psychiatry
University of Florida
Clinic Director
UF Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic at Springhill Health Center
Gainesville, Florida


1. Unruh BT, Gunderson JG. “Good enough” psychiatric residency training in borderline personality disorder: challenges, choice points, and a model generalist curriculum. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2016;24(5):367-377.
2. Sheehan L, Nieweglowski K, Corrigan P. The stigma of personality disorders. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2016;18(1):11.

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