The effects of untreated borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be devastating. For example, the physical and mental health impact of this disorder is so severe that life expectancy among people who have BPD is about 20 years less than the national average. Since the difficulties of living with untreated BPD have been clearly established, is borderline personality disorder a disability?
What Is BPD?
BPD is a complex mental health concern that is characterized by instability and impulsivity. People who have BPD may exhibit symptoms such as the following:
- Frequent outbursts of anger, which may include physical violence
- Self-harming or suicidal behaviors
- Impulsive behaviors in areas that can cause considerable harm, such as gambling, spending, substance use, eating binges, and sex
- Significant fluctuations in self-image or sense of self
- Drastic efforts to avoid being abandoned, even in cases where there is no credible likelihood that this will occur
- A pattern of intense but unstable interpersonal relationships
- Paranoia and dissociation
- Overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or emptiness
Understandably, people who have borderline personality disorder may find it extremely difficult or virtually impossible to make meaningful progress in school, get and keep a job, and otherwise engage in a satisfying independent lifestyle.
But are the symptoms of BPD severe enough to qualify a person for legal protections and/or publicly funded financial support? In other words, is borderline personality disorder a disability?
Who Decides If Borderline Personality Disorder Is a Disability?
Determining if any specific disorder such as borderline personality disorder is a disability isn’t as simple as it might seem. The primary difficulty in making this determination is that the word “disability” can mean different things to different people (and different organizations).
For the purposes of this page, we are going to discuss how BPD is addressed by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
- The Social Security Administration manages financial support for disabled citizens.
- The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits acts of discrimination against disabled people in school, at work, on public transportation, and in many other areas.
Is Borderline Personality Disorder a Disability Under SSA Rules?
From the perspective of the Social Security Administration, the answer to the question, “Is borderline personality disorder a disability?” is “Yes, but not always.”
The SSA manages two disability benefit programs:
- Social Security disability insurance (or SSDI): This program is funded by a payroll tax. It provides monthly payments to adults who are precluded from working due to a qualified disability.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI): This program is funded by general tax revenue. It provides money for basic needs for older adults, people who fall below a certain income threshold, and disabled people (including both children and adults).
Receiving a diagnosis of BPD is one part of the process of qualifying for disability benefits through these programs. But a diagnosis alone is not enough to make a person eligible for these benefits. Here are a few direct quotes from the SSA website about determining if conditions such as borderline personality disorder are disabilities:
- The law defines disability as the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.
- We need objective medical evidence from an acceptable medical source to establish that you have a medically determinable mental disorder.
- We also need evidence to assess the severity of your mental disorder and its effects on your ability to function in a work setting.
- We will consider all relevant evidence about your mental disorder and your daily functioning that we receive from you and from people who know you.
In other words, an adult who has borderline personality disorder may receive both SSDI and SSI benefits, but only if the Social Security Administration’s investigation finds proof that their mental health condition is severe enough to inhibit their ability to function at work and/or in other areas of their life.
Is BPD a Disability Under the ADA?
As we noted earlier on this page, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers and others from discriminating against disabled people. The ADA does not offer financial support. But it does establish a path to employment for people who may need certain reasonable accommodations in order to be successful employees.
As defined by the ADA, an individual is considered to have a disability if they have “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.” This impairment must last, or be expected to last, for a minimum of six months.
The ADA also provides several examples of major life activities, including caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, concentrating, communicating, and working.
Under these general descriptions, borderline personality disorder is considered a disability under the ADA. Of course, as was also the case with qualifying for SSDI and SSI, establishing a person’s rights under the ADA is not as simple as receiving a diagnosis or exhibiting certain symptoms. If you or someone that you care about has been subjected to discrimination related to a mental health concern, you will have to provide convincing evidence of the discrimination as well as proof that you have a qualified disability.
The most visible changes under the ADA have involved increased accessibility for people who have physical disabilities. Accommodations for those with mental health concerns have increased, but several sources have cited a need for continued efforts to ensure that the ADA applies to all people who have conditions that meet the law’s definition of disability.
Find Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder in Atlanta, GA
Adults whose lives have been impacted by borderline personality disorder can receive personalized services and compassionate support at Peachtree Wellness Solutions. Our treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia, offers a full continuum of care within a safe and welcoming environment. Give us a call or visit our admissions page today to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one.