Borderline Personality Disorder: Wales rugby player Donna Rose shares her story of living with BPD

Wales international rugby player Donna Rose
Donna Rose said she struggled to get the mental health treatment she needed. Credit: ITV Wales

Warning: This report discusses mental health and self-harm.

Up to 60,000 people in Wales are believed to be living with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

It is a condition that is often linked to trauma in an individual's past.

Wales rugby international Donna Rose was diagnosed with BPD 11 years ago, after a particularly dark period in her life.

She said: "I tried committing suicide, I started to have therapy, I just thought it was a load of rubbish. And I just thought, I'm just a wrong’un, that really stuck in my mind that people thought, you just grew up in a council estate, that's the way you're meant to be.

"It got really, really bad. I was trying to commit suicide again. And I was drinking a lot. I was getting in trouble with the police.

"Borderline personality disorder mostly impacts people with trauma. In my lifetime, unfortunately, I have dealt with some abuse. And that has led for me to have borderline personality disorder."

Rugby plays an important role in Donna's life. Credit: ITV Wales

Donna received her treatment outside of Wales but like others both here and beyond, she said it was a struggle to find the right support.

"One week, I'll be seeing nurse A the next week I'd be seeing psychiatrist B. And I have abandonment issues. I didn't know that at the time. But that just triggered me. If you’re going to give someone a psychiatrist to talk to, keep that person, we trust that person because we opened up to them.

"By the end, I would just sit there and be quiet and be like, I have nothing to say. I don't want to open up to you because I've opened up to five different people.

"I'd go to my appointments. But what about the week in between? You know, I've just been in hospital, not very well. And I'm seeing them once a week or once a month? What about the time in between? And this, I believe this needs to change because within that time, I've self harmed a lot."

  • What is borderline personality disorder?

Clinical lead Keir Harding, from Beam Consultancy, said: "Personality disorder in general is some difficulties around how somebody thinks and feels about themselves, other people and the world and it then causes distress for them."

He explained that borderline personality disorder, which was sometimes called emotionally unstable personality disorder, has nine different criteria, including:

  • Recurrent suicidality

  • Impulsiveness

  • Self-harm

  • Moving from idealising people to denigrating people

  • Chronic feelings of emptiness.

Donna is sharing her story and meeting others who live with BPD to raise awareness of the condition.

"I’m grateful that I’m able to do this because if I can help people understand what some people go through, if I can save a life, that’s why I’m grateful, don’t get me wrong, I love playing rugby for my country but just being able to stand up and show people means absolutely everything for me."

One coping strategy that experts recommend is to share the challenges of the condition with others, which Donna sees as an important part of understanding her BPD journey. 

She has never met anyone with BPD before so now Donna has come to Bridgend to visit Jess Matthews, who also lives with the condition.

Jess Matthews lives with BPD and delivers training sessions to health care workers about the condition. Credit: Jess Matthews

Jess was diagnosed in 2017. She said at this point she was "in crisis" and "had a suicidal plan".

"The crisis team doctor saw me, she gave me a printout of basically a booklet of different personality disorders and said go home and pick which one you think you see yourself in. And the next day, I went back and she said, you're having a diagnosis of BPD. And that was kind of it, just a 20 minute consultation with a doctor I've never met before. 

"In the beginning, when I was first diagnosed, I was so desperate to get help. I was really relieved that they gave me a diagnosis. And I thought, this is it, I'm going to get help and support, I'm going to feel better. And that's not what happened.

"I just felt like they labelled me as the difficult patient or the borderline patient. And they called me manipulative, they called me attention seeking. They didn't try to understand why I was suicidal."

A spokesperson from Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board said: “We are concerned to hear about these experiences.

“Decisions about the treatment received by those accessing our mental health services are made according to the needs of each individual.”

Jess said the stigma she experienced was very concerning.

"When me and my boyfriend bought a house. We both applied for life insurance." She said.

"And on the basis that I have borderline personality disorder diagnosis, they refused my life insurance. Which just made me feel like my life isn't worth the same as someone else's."

For Donna, changing the stigma is very important to her.

"I was worried about telling people I have borderline personality disorder and experiencing stigma because I didn't want to be called 'the nutter'. And I knew I was going to be treated differently.

"There shouldn't be a stigma."

Clinical lead Keir Harding has also recognised the amount of stigma that people with this diagnosis are faced with.

"Once this diagnosis is applied to you, once this is written in your notes, the stigma and discrimination that you will experience is quite profound.  

"And sadly, that stigma and discrimination will come primarily from services that are supposed to help you.

"And I cannot understand at what point any mental health professional decided that they weren't going to support survivors of trauma and abuse."

Keir Harding is a mental health professional with more than 20 years experience. Credit: ITV Wales

Since her diagnosis, Jess has been using her lived experience to help to educate health care workers and has even delivered a training session on BPD.

She said: "I really just want people to understand that those of us who have this diagnosis, we're not bad people. We're not horrible people. We're just normal human beings who are trying to navigate life and have experienced different things that might have been traumatic."

Issues like those Jess and Donna have faced are why some people are now campaigning for change.

The charity Platfform, for mental health and social change, is calling for a review of the use of the diagnosis of personality disorder.

Dr Jen Daffin, from Platfform, said: "Eighty-two percent of people that have received the diagnosis of personality disorder also report traumatic experiences in childhood. And so the way the diagnosis is currently constructed, it means that we ignore all of the different things that are going on for a person. And in doing that, we're not able to provide them with the appropriate treatment and support. 

"For the diagnosis of personality disorder, there are no identified genes, there are no chemical imbalances that we can attribute to that. 

"It makes sense that we take a trauma informed approach to interventions and this could mean using diagnoses such as complex PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder."

The Welsh Government said it is developing a new strategy, which will "prioritise the availability of good mental health support and provision irrespective of diagnosis".

Examples of good practice can be found in a number of hospitals across the country. At Aneurin Bevan Health Board, the head of adult psychology has shared how they support patients with BPD.

Dr Liz Andrew said: "Best practice is that we understand people across all domains of their life…and then with the patient, try and develop a shared understanding of what might have caused their difficulties, and what the treatment pathways might be. 

"We have employed people who have lived experience of having the diagnosis. And those peers bring something really special to our treatment programmes."

Those waiting the longest for treatment increased as the number of cases waiting over 36 weeks for treatment topped a quarter of a million. Credit: PA

One form of treatment for borderline personality disorder is dialectic behavioural therapy or DBT. It is a type of talking therapy that is specially adapted for people who feel emotions very intensely.

Dr Liz Andrew said: "It's a multi-phase treatment where you're using intensive skills, training, and a good relationship with an individual therapist, in order to support the person to enhance their repertoire of coping.

"We've had really good outcomes in terms of helping people stop self harming, helping them most importantly, stay alive."

Wherever you live in Wales, the first step to getting support is to speak to your GP.

Dr Liz Andrew said: "Speak to primary care mental support services. Go in well equipped, go in with a description of your main difficulties. And well equipped in terms of knowing what treatment pathways you deserve and you're entitled to, and asking where you can access them."

Donna has found that playing rugby is a positive coping mechanism to help improve her mental health.

"Rugby is a big factor in my mental health. If I didn’t have rugby I probably would’ve gone off the rails a bit more.

"Being a traveller, I have strong morals and emotions anyway but my family are my world and my rugby team is my family so they all mean everything to me."

She is now encouraging people to speak out and share what they are going through.“I just thought to myself, I can't do this anymore. I want to help people. I don't want people to feel like this, it’s horrible. It was horrible for me.

"I would say if anyone does have trauma in their life, it's best to speak to people. Because I held it in for so long, and now, it just exploded. So, you know, please, reach out to someone."

Wales This Week: BPD & Me, Thursday 26 October at 8:30pm on ITV Cymru Wales and online.

If you have been affected by anything in this article, help and advice can be found here.

Samaritans is available day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

The Mental Health Helpline for Wales is available to take your call any time, day or night. Freephone 0800 132 737 or text 'help" to 81066 (charged at standard network rate)

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