Borderline Personality Disorder in the Emergency Department: Good Psychiatric Management

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Abstract

Patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are high utilizers of psychiatric emergency services and present unique challenges in that setting. Frequently advised to visit an emergency department (ED) if safety is in question, their experiences once there often do not have beneficial effects. Issues specific to patients with BPD in the ED include volatile interactions with staff, repeat visits, concerns about safety (and liability), and disposition. Emergency department staff attitudes toward these patients are frequently negative when compared to patients with other diagnoses, and can detrimentally affect outcomes and perpetuate stigma regarding BPD. These attitudes are often due to lack of education and training about how to understand, approach, and treat the patient with BPD. The limited literature regarding the treatment of BPD in the ED offers few guidelines. This article presents an approach based on Good Psychiatric Management that can reduce negative reactions by ED staff and make ED visits more effective and less harmful. Relevant principles include psychoeducation, the reinforcement of the connection between symptoms and interpersonal stressors, and employment of an active, authentic therapeutic stance. Training ED staff in these principles could lead to attitudinal changes, reduced stigma, and potentially improved outcomes.

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