Mum says Borderline Personality Disorder sufferers need more help after daughter’s death

“Katie internalised negative emotions such as anger and sadness and felt she was a disappointment and a burden to those who loved her.”

Katie Donnelly died last September

Katie Donnelly

Katie Donnelly was full of ambition

Pete Davidson

Roisin GormanSunday World

A devastated mum has called for more help for people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) after the death of her teenage daughter.

Katie Donnelly died in hospital last September after struggling with her symptoms of BPD, following a diagnosis early last year.

Mum Erin says sufferers are marginalised and misunderstood in mental health services and among the public as attention-seeking when they’re facing a constant emotional battle.

The most common treatment is psychotherapy but Katie, just 18 when she died, was facing a two-year wait. Other BPD sufferers who have spoken to the Sunday World say they’re facing a similar delay in treatment.

According to charity Mental Health UK, the condition affects one in 100 of the population, and studies show they have a higher rate of suicide than people with any other psychiatric illness.

Erin, from Trillick, Co Tyrone, says her daughter struggled every day.

She had been formally diagnosed with BPD, also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, one of the most common personality disorders.

Katie Donnelly

“Katie was an ‘A’ student, had a large circle of friends, possessed excellent social skills and was very outgoing.

"She hated seeing people suffer and put everyone’s feelings and emotions above her own.

“She wanted to pursue a career as a paramedic so that she could help as many people as possible and she worked part-time caring in the community,” says Erin.

“Katie was formally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder just after she turned 18. She researched her condition and self-diagnosed herself with Quiet Borderline Personality Disorder.

"She was in constant emotional pain, but she accepted her diagnosis.

“Katie internalised negative emotions such as anger and sadness and felt she was a disappointment and a burden to those who loved her.”

The condition is described by the NHS as a disorder of mood which affects how a person interacts with others. The symptoms include emotional instability, impulsive behaviour, unstable relationships, self-harm and suicidal thoughts and paranoia. Its cause isn’t known but childhood abuse or neglect can be triggers.

Erin recalls heart-breaking conversations with her daughter when Katie explained the impact the condition had on her life.

Katie Donnelly was full of ambition

“She used to say, ‘I don’t want to die. I want my mind to be quiet.’

“A comment was made to Katie while she was in A&E that there was a man who had been in an accident and was fighting for his life.

"Katie said to me, ‘Mummy, do they not understand I’m here fighting for my life too?’ ”

Following the teenager’s sudden death in hospital, Erin has called for better understanding and treatment for people with BPD.

“It’s a condition that continues to face deep discrimination within mental health services and the community.

"Many people and professionals alike still view self-harming behaviour as attention-seeking, rather than perceiving it as a symptom of their underlying mental illness and associated distress,” she says.

Other sufferers who spoke to Sunday World on condition of anonymity say they’ve also faced a lack of understanding about BPD.

Amy, who was only diagnosed in her forties, after four different diagnoses says she knows how clients with BPD are treated because she’s a mental health professional.

She’s never told any NHS workmates and doubts she ever will, because of the stigma attached to BPD.

US comedian Pete Davidson, former boyfriend of Kim Kardashian is one of the only public figures to state publicly he has the condition. It’s thought Princess Diana and Amy Winehouse may both have had BPD, but neither was formally diagnosed.

“My colleagues don’t know, and I can’t bring myself to say it,” says the health professional.

“I hear the office banter about ‘there’s another personality disorder coming in,’ and they don’t mean any harm, but it’s got that stigma of being ‘difficult’.

“Among healthcare professionals there are very pre-conceived ideas about BPD and that reduces healthcare empathy and leads to burnout among the staff.”

Amy doesn’t experience the rage often associated with BPD but has struggled with feelings of shame, emptiness, anxiety, sorrow and feelings of terror. She experienced childhood sexual abuse and feels that contributed to her condition.

Recurrent hospital admissions are common, she believes because patients with BPD often feel secure in the order and structure of a hospital environment.

But suicide attempts are also part of the impulsive, intensely emotional condition. “I could have a situation where I’m talking to a colleague and they don’t want to listen because people have busy lives and when they go away, I’ll feel abandoned.

“Instead of thinking I can go back and talk to them in ten minutes I’ll feel they don’t want me, I’m a bother to them, I’m a nuisance to this world. That’s how this kind of thinking gets out of control.

Pete Davidson

“It starts with panic and fear and continues to the next stage which is to look for help in A&E or engage in self-harm. Some people who self-harm go on to die accidentally or by misadventure.”

Amy admits she’s attempted suicide but also clearly recalls she didn’t want to die.

“When I put the rope around my neck, I knew I didn’t want to die. I just wanted my head to be free of the worry of everything.”

She’s now on anti-psychotic medication, which is working, but knows from professional experience that talking therapy Dialectical Behaviour Therapy has an 80 per cent success rate.

Louise, diagnosed with BPD four years ago, is on the waiting list for the therapy but has been warned it will be two years before she gets an appointment.

The 21-year-old says her condition has led to multiple hospital admissions and trouble with the police.

“When I go to hospital if I’m in an episode they don’t know how to react or to calm you down. That’s why I’ve got arrested a couple of times. I was always getting arrested and acting up,” she says.

“You could wake up in a good mood and out of nowhere you will get a sudden rush of emotions and you can’t control them. You feel like a burden to everyone and push people to see if they leave you.

“You overthink everything, you think the worst of every situation. I’ve had so many suicide attempts, but I have never wanted to die.”

Louise says strong family support has kept her going.

“No one really explained anything to me after my diagnosis. I’ve been left in the dark. If it wasn’t for my family and my girlfriend God knows where I’d be.”

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