Integrating Early Intervention for Borderline Personality Disorder and Mood Disorders

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Borderline personality disorder (BPD) has been demonstrated to be a reliable and valid construct in young people (adolescents and young adults). Both borderline- and mood-related psychopathology become clinically apparent from puberty through to young adulthood, frequently co-occur, can reinforce one another, and can be difficult to differentiate clinically. This Gordian knot of overlapping clinical features, common risk factors, and precursors to both BPD and mood disorders complicates clinical assessment, prevention, and treatment. Regardless of whether an individual crosses an arbitrary diagnostic threshold, a considerable proportion of young people with borderline- and mood-related psychopathology will develop significant and persistent functional, vocational, and interpersonal impairment and disability during this critical risk and developmental period. There is a clear need for early intervention, but spurious diagnostic certainty risks stigma, misapplication of diagnostic labels, inappropriate treatment, and unfavorable outcomes. This article aims to integrate early intervention for BPD and mood disorders in the clinical context of developmental and phenomenological change and evolution. “Clinical staging,” similar to disease staging in general medicine, is presented as a pragmatic, heuristic, and trans-diagnostic framework to guide prevention and intervention. It acknowledges that the early stages of these disorders cannot be disentangled sufficiently to allow for disorder-specific preventive measures and early interventions. Clinical staging defines an individual’s location along the continuum of the evolving temporal course of a disorder. Such staging aids differentiation of early or milder clinical phenomena from those that accompany illness progression and chronicity, and suggests the application of appropriate and proportionate intervention strategies.

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