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April 30, 2022

Could Amber Heard’s Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis be used to further stigmatize Mental Health Struggles?

As many of you know, Johnny Depp’s expert witness claimed Amber Heard displayed symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Johnny Depp’s legal team hired a clinical and forensic psychologist to evaluate Amber Heard using a series of tests over a 12-hour period. Her ensuing report also claimed Ms. Heard displayed histrionic personality disorder symptoms and was feigning PTSD.

This article isn’t about who’s right in Depp v. Heard. This isn’t about Ms. Heard’s behavior. It’s about labeling people. Painting Ms. Heard with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) symptoms brings a serious diagnostic labeling issue to the fore; a labeling issue that has caused and continues to cause harm. Today, people viewed as inappropriate, emotionally reactive, overly sad or mad, or clingy are quickly pigeon-holed with this terrible label.

Abuse survivors, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with autism are constantly mislabeled with BPD when they react to trauma or display neurodivergent traits. These misdiagnoses can lead to behaviorism treatments like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), where people are told they have problem behaviors and forced into chain analysis to fix themselves.

People are diagnosed with BPD using a symptom-based methodology that can easily ignore the underlying pathology of the people it seeks to categorize. Today, arm-chair academics often write articles on BPD without clinical experience. Suddenly, people who are suffering from trauma, unsure of their identity, and exploring their sexuality are ticking BPD diagnostic criteria boxes from the DSM-V:

1. Chronic feelings of emptiness.

2. Emotional instability in reaction to day-to-day event.

3. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.

4. Identity disturbance with markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.

5. Impulsive behavior in at least two areas.

6. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger.

7. Pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by extremes between idealization and devaluation.

8. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures or threats, or self-harming behavior.

9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.

There are many other reasons people can suffer from these symptoms. Coming out as part of the LGBTQ+ community and not being accepted by family often triggers emptiness. A child’s frantic efforts to avoid abandonment in the still face experiment illustrates how anyone could develop abandonment trauma independently from a BPD diagnosis. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can also lay a foundation for misdiagnoses. Indeed, the symptom-based diagnosis method of the DSM-V criteria has caused garbage-bin of misdiagnoses filled with misfits.

Mental healthcare providers regularly view individuals diagnosed with BPD negatively, often construing them as attention-seeking, manipulative, and even dangerous. Conversely, those diagnosed with BPD often don’t find these interpretations of their experiences to be accurate. Many find BPD treatment dismissive of childhood trauma or experiences of emotional distress. Clinical psychology and psychiatry often mistake their understanding of the histories and present experiences of the people they diagnose with BPD.

It’s time to understand who we’re labeling with disordered personalities. Let’s stop BPD labeling people with diverse experiences. Let’s begin to have more compassion. Are these simply people with histories of trauma, autism, LGBTQ+ community, or bullying victims? Does labeling help people or does it blame them for not responding normally?

The founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Marsha Linehan, came up with the bio-social model which argues that BPD begins with a sensitive child who causes negative reactions from their environment. I disagree. Most often, BPD begins with an abusive, invalidating environment. It should be called a social-bio model, not bio-social. It’s time we begin by looking at a human being’s environment first.

If you want to learn more about the harm psychiatry and psychology have caused, read Sexy, But Psycho by Jessica Taylor. Join Drop the Disorder. Read Mad in America. Ask people what it’s like to be labeled and treated for BPD by the mental-health community. It’s one of the most harmful things I’ve ever experienced. I wish it would stop.

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