Here to connect the dots

Borderline Personality Disorder is often misunderstood, both by those who are diagnosed and those who treat it.

Latrobe Regional Hospital is hoping to shed some clarity on the complex disorder that affects about two per cent of the population.

BPD – a disorder of the body’s emotion regulation system – is characterised by behaviours unique to each person, but may include self-harm, addiction, an inability to manage emotions or difficulty forming inter-personal relationships.

Latrobe Regional Hospital clinical psychologist Sarah Schluter said while only two per cent of the general population was affected, research signified 50 per cent of people in an inpatient ward and about 25 per cent in community mental health services would meet the requirements of a BPD diagnosis.

This placed a large strain on the mental health sector, she said, with many clinicians and clients feeling overwhelmed by the disorder.

But Ms Schluter said she had a better understanding of how to manage the disorder after enlisting in a two-year program, along side two colleagues, to become trained in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.

DBT is a therapy-based intervention that helps BPD clients develop personal coping strategies for when they feel “out of control” of their emotions.

It involves individual and group therapy sessions which focus on the principles of mindfulness, emotional regulation (learning how to keep emotions in check), distress tolerance (how to stop yourself from resorting to destructive behaviour), and inter-personal effectiveness.

“(For someone with BPD) it may seem like a jigsaw puzzle of how these skills fit together. Then there’s that ‘ah-ha’ moment in the therapy we deserve,” Ms Schluter said.

“The clients are often really excited as it’s the first time it’s all made sense.”

Previously, those with BPD have had to travel to Melbourne for treatment but now it’s on offer at LRH, as well as in Sale.

Ms Schluter said this was a “big thing” for the region, which would hopefully increase treatment numbers and reduce strain on emergency departments.

She said initial data collected by the hospital indicated those who participated in the DBT Skills Group reduced the number of days spent in hospital by an average of 67 per cent in the first six months.

“The evolution of this program means we are able to treat more people in their hometowns,” Ms Schluter said.

Family support was also a big part of treatment, Ms Schluter said, and LRH would soon introduce a program to provide loved ones of clients with BPD a better understanding of the condition.

“It can be very difficult for family members to see their partner or friend or family member in such distress,” Ms Schluter said.

“Family members can feel quite helpless.”

She said the 12-week ‘Family Connections’ educative program would equip participants with knowledge and skills that would be helpful for their own wellbeing while supporting those with BPD.

Last week was BPD Awareness Week, held annually during the first week of October.

This week is Mental Health Week. Running from 9 to 15 October; it aims to activate, educate and engage Victorians about mental health through a week of interactive events.

More details can be found at

If you or someone you know needs support, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.