Borderline Personality Disorder Caused by Genetic Material on Chromosome 9

DNA by Keith Ramsey

Recent research from the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that “genetic material on chromosome nine was linked to BPD features”. This research, while valuable, is misleading (more on that later). First, what is Borderline Personality Disorder? People who experience BPD are highly emotionally reactive and their moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image and behaviour are very unstable and irratic. Their black and white thinking patterns are reflected in their tendency to idealize others and then become extremely disillusioned with that same person due to acute abandonment fears. Self-harm, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and alcohol and drug abuse are some of the typical co-occuring difficulties. According to this new research, “genetic factors play a major role in individual differences of borderline personality disorder features in Western society”. What is not mentioned in the article is the fact that 40 to 71 percent of people diagnosed with BPD have been abused as children. The article also fails to mention that 75% of people diagnosed with BPD are female. While a number of factors may contribute to the development of BPD, the role of childhood physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and the fact that it is seen predominantly in women, is neither new or controversial and should be mentioned as part of the BPD context. Not mentioning these long established facts creates a false impression, and a misguided hope for a genetic cure. It also neglects the painful background experiences plaguing people who experience BPD and takes the focus off abuse prevention  and the need to support abuse victims who wish to come forward.

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One Response to Borderline Personality Disorder Caused by Genetic Material on Chromosome 9
  1. brianmacdonald
    June 10, 2009 | 10:20 am

    A close look at Distel’s paper shows that there is a 1 in 10,000 chance that the link that they found occurred by chance. It’s true that the researchers didn’t query the abuse history of the participants with the BPD diagnosis, and it’s also true that a history of abuse is commonly seen among patients with a Borderline Personality Disorder. However, they also didn’t survey abuse sufferers to determine what percentage of them develop BPD; it’s likely that some people who experience abuse might NOT develop a personality disorder, although it’s definitely a risk.

    The “diathesis-stress” model of many mental illnesses proposes that people are genetically predisposed to certain disorders, but that the disorders might only develop in response to a stressor. So the genetic link to BPD might exist, but it might require a major stressor to trigger the development of the disorder!