BPD and Teens: What Parents Want to Know!

Adolescence can be a difficult passage for both teenagers and parents. As a parent, you might say to yourself “I just don’t recognize my child anymore!”. Your teen does not want to spend much time with the rest of the family, is moody and impulsive, feels misunderstood, lashes out at you, looks uninterested in your attempt to talk, but seems overly worried about friends, social media, etc. Teenagers face a number of challenges which can explain many of the changes you observe: surges in hormones, feeling more pressure to fit in, figuring out who they are and what they want and facing an important transition to a new stage of life. This would be a tall order for anyone!

During this challenging time, parents may wonder if this is “typical” teen moodiness or if these could be signs of a mental health condition, such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is common and complex, affecting an estimated 1.6% of the population. Practitioners try to avoid pathologizing normal behaviour, and might be hesitant to diagnose BPD in teenagers, especially since adolescence is often a period of turmoil and transition. However, for both teenagers and family members, having a diagnosis or identifying traits of the disorder might have advantages. Early detection is important so appropriate treatment can be offered as soon as possible. It will also allow parents to access appropriate services for themselves so that they may better cope with this challenging situation, learn how best to communicate with a highly sensitive and reactive teen, as well as ensuring that any person in the circle of care affected by the situation are also supported.

When mental health professionals consider a BPD diagnosis they mostly look for the following symptoms:

Behavioural Dysregulation, such as:

  • Self-harming: cutting, punching walls
  • Impulsive or self-destructive behaviours: substance abuse, dangerous sexual behaviours

Relationship Problems, such as

  • Intense fear of abandonment, unstable relationships with family members and friends
  • Difficulty to control anger
  • Irrational or paranoid beliefs (especially under great distress)

Strong Emotional Reactions

  • To seemingly minor issues, especially around relationships
  • Extreme emotional swings (sometimes within a day; from very depressed to happy to very angry to anxious to happy again…); in some cases suicidal ideations

Teenagers who feel strong emotions for longer periods, who take a long time to get back to their emotional baseline (i.e. feeling relatively calm and collected) and who engage in risky behaviours or use substances to alleviate their distress may be struggling with borderline personality disorder.

The good news is BPD is treatable— both teens and families
can find relief!

BPD is a challenging condition for the person struggling and for their families. The good news is BPD is treatable — both teens and families can find relief! I Accessing appropriate course of treatment as early as possible is recommended, mainly using psychotherapy (although medication may also be added). Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a popular treatment for BPD and could be offered either at your CLSC or at a specialized outpatient mental health facility in your area.

The journey to recovery from BPD or from severe difficulty to manage strong emotions is not linear and will require much dedication, patience and perseverance from both parents and teens. Mindfulness, emotion regulation and validation, as well as learning about the condition can make a tremendous difference. Parents can have access to such tools in a number of ways (including online!). The Sashbear Foundation offers the Family Connections Program, a free 12 week program designed to help family members of a loved one (teen or adult) struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder. The program is now offered online and families can register at Sashbear.org. Additional knowledge can be accessed on Sashbear’s webinar series at sashbear.org/en/resources-main/webinar-series.

If you suspect your teenager may be struggling with BPD, or if you have observed any thoughts, feelings, or signs of self-harm, the first step is to reach out to a mental health professional who can assess and rule out any other potential causes for your teen’s behaviour and distress. In Quebec, CLSCs are the frontline free public institutions where families can find the mental health services they need. They may ask a family doctor for a referral or may go directly (or by appointment) to the psychosocial intake department located in every CLSC. If you are unsure how to navigate the system, call AMI-Quebec or visit amiquebec.org/healthcare.

In case of an emergency, do not hesitate to call 911. If you are facing a very difficult situation with your teen, you or your teen may want to call a crisis center (visit amiquebec.org/crisis).

AMI-Quebec offers a number of services that support the circle of care of a person living with BPD or with any other mental health issue. Visit amiquebec.org/borderline for resources and help or give us a call at 514-486-1448.

– Sylvie Bouchard

From Share&Care Fall 2022

For sources, visit amiquebec.org/sources

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