Employment, Arguments and Borderline Personality Disorder
Work hours and better social support are associated with recovery.
Posted November 29, 2022 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
- A recent study found that employment is associated with recovery from borderline personality disorder (BPD).
- The longitudinal study found that people with BPD who were functioning well after one year were more likely to be employed.
- The study found that they experienced fewer arguments, fewer symptoms of BPD, had more social support, and lived with others.
Did you know that employment and good social support are factors associated with recovery from borderline personality disorder (BPD)? A new study published in 2022 found the factors that are significantly associated with recovery from borderline personality disorder .
The study sampled 48 people with the disorder who had equivalent characteristics at the start of the research, and it was conducted by Brin Grenyer from the School of Psychology at the University of Wollongong in Australia, together with Michelle Townsend, Kate Lewis and Nicholas Day, and funded by the New South Wales Ministry of Health. The researchers then followed up on the people after one year and compared those with BPD who were functioning well with those who were functioning poorly.
Characteristics of people recovering well from BPD
The study found that people with BPD who were functioning well after one year were likely to have experienced fewer arguments or breakups, less self-harm or thinking about committing suicide, they were likely to have been less impulsive, less moody, less angry, and less distrusting of other people compared to one year before. Their feelings of derealisation, having no identity, feeling abandoned, and feelings of emptiness had also subsided over the year.
The study found that people with BPD who were functioning poorly had experienced a significant reduction in self-harming or thinking about committing suicide compared to one year before, but there was no significant improvement in several other symptoms.
Importance of employment in recovery from BPD
The study  found that, surprisingly, there was no statistically significant difference between people who were functioning well, and people who were functioning poorly after one year, based on whether they had received intensive treatment from a psychotherapist or psychiatrist, or regarding having a case manager for their treatment.
What the researchers found as being significantly associated with recovery after one year was someone with BPD being in employment, having social support, living with other people, and continuing with their employment working hours rather than reducing them. Specifically, people with BPD who were functioning poorly after one year were significantly more likely to have days where they were unable to work or do activities, they were more likely to cut back on job hours or activities, and they were more likely to have no social support, to live alone, and to be unemployed.
Employment and quality of life with BPD
The researchers examined whether there was an association between occupational factors and clinical characteristics of people with BPD. They found that the more days people with the disorder were unable to work, the lower their quality-of-life scores. Likewise, the more days they cut back on work, the lower their quality-of-life scores. When the researchers looked at how people with BPD self-rated their level of improvement, they found that it correlated positively with their quality-of-life scores, and negatively with the number of days they were unable to work or cut back on work. This meant that the more people with BPD were away from work, the less they felt they had improved.
The study is correlational and does not rule out the possibility that the relationship between employment and recovery from BPD is cyclical, which is to say that as someone recovers, they are more likely to return to work, which then helps them recover further, and allows them to return to work fully. It suggests that occupational factors should be considered as an important route to recovery from the disorder.
The new study  illustrates the importance of work for mental health within the context of borderline personality disorder, and shows that clinical intervention should be accompanied by practically useful advice for people with BPD about finding work, returning to work, and harnessing their social support. Clinical guidance for people with BPD should address the social support needs of those who live alone or who are unemployed, such as by helping them access volunteering opportunities that help them meet people, socialise, and feel supported socially. The study also suggests that people with BPD should avoid being isolated, and avoid toxic situations which harm their well-being — such as relationships or friendships which involve a lot of arguments, or social media interactions that involve a lot of conflict.