There has been considerable coverage in the media in recent years of celebrities who have spoken openly of their mental health struggles, a prime example being Stephen Fry with his Bipolar Disorder and support of the ‘Time to Change’ campaign. However, BPD is generally much less well known about and I admit to complete ignorance about it until meeting Borderline’s founder, Sarah Eley. I was intrigued to see what results I could find regarding celebrities with the disorder.
Before looking into celebrities with BPD, I first looked into whether BPD has a presence in film. I found that it does, including the Academy Award-winning movie Girl, Interrupted starring Winona Ryder, which details the real life of Susanna Kaysen who struggled with BPD based on her memoir of the same name. In an article entitled ‘The Experience of the Borderline Phenomena through Cinema: Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, True Romance and Pulp Fiction’, Dr Ross of University of Maryland and US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health has spoken of the importance of using Borderline Personality Disorder in cinema as a tool for education and increased understanding:
‘The experience of many patients with Borderline Personality Disorder is intense and kaleidoscopic. These qualities may be represented in film in ways that reflect and convey their essential features that are less readily captured in words. Quentin Tarantino has produced a trilogy of films that bring to light and to life the BPD experience. We use these movies to illustrate and discuss five key borderline themes: the fluid nature of drive derivatives, the discontinuous experience of time and space, the conflicted search for an idealised parent, antisocial distortions of the superego, and the organizing and stabilizing function of a central romantic fantasy.’
As a disorder that affects approximately 1.4% of the population (about 1 in every 150 people – similar to current estimates for autism rates), it would be most odd if some famous people did not suffer with BPD. Some of the symptoms of BPD manifested in celebrity lifestyles are feelings of emptiness or boredom, frequent displays of inappropriate anger, impulsiveness, intolerance of being alone, self-injury, sexual confusion, eating disorders, substance abuse, and shame.’
So, returning to my focus of whether there are any celebrities who have BPD, rather than simply portraying a character who does so, I was hugely pleased to find that many inspirational famous people seem to have suffered with BPD and still made great contributions to society and humanity.
Despite this, it still remains difficult to identify famous people with BPD. I only found one celebrity openly admitting to having BPD. Many celebrities are suspected of suffering with the condition, but due to stigma and lack of understanding surrounding the disorder, most usually deny such rumours. This could be because BPD suffers from a very negative misrepresentation of being a disorder characterised by dangerous, unstable, selfish and manipulative personalities.
The following list comprises of a few of the celebrities who are suspected to have BPD. It is important to note that in all these cases the diagnosis is not confirmed, and even if it were an official diagnosis, the celebrity has certainly chosen not make it public.
Award-winning actress, screenwriter, film director and author Angelina Jolie - who actually starred in Girl, Interrupted - voluntarily went into the Neuropsychiatric Institute in the late 1990s due to self-reported suicidal and homicidal ideation. It has been mooted that Jolie has a diagnosis of presumptive (suspected)
Borderline Personality Disorder and that once diagnosed with presumptive BPD she began to improve and motherhood has since helped her adapt to the condition. However, this is not confirmed, and Jolie has not publicly admitted to this being the case, even if it is.
Lindsay Lohan is another American actress suspected of having BPD. Lohan has shown symptoms of BPD through alcohol and substance abuse and has spent time in rehab as well as participating in AA.
Pop singer Britney Spears has shown indications of BPD through extreme impulsive behaviours, including marrying her childhood friend Jason Allen Alexander in January 2004. The marriage was annulled after a mere 55 hours and it was stated that Spears ‘lacked understanding of her actions’. Her second marriage also lasted for a short duration. She has also been known to shave her head bald in public and has been admitted to several rehab centres. Spears has likened herself to ‘a bad kid suffering from ADD’.
The lyrics to many of singer-songwriter Pink’s songs, strongly suggest struggles with many symptoms of BPD; hits like ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’, ‘Just Like A Pill’, ‘Just Give Me A Reason’, ‘Save My Life’, ‘Don’t Let Me Get Me’, ‘Leave Me Alone (I’m Lonely)’, ‘Better Life’, to name but a few. She’s also spoken in interviews about many experiences and feelings that those with BPD have gone through and experienced themselves.
There are also a number of other suspected past cases of BPD. These include:
Princess Diana, who faced struggles with eating disorders and maintaining relationships throughout her life. She is suspected of having BPD which some attribute to the separation of her parents and possible neglect during her childhood years. However, this is highly speculative, solely based on the fact that she once mentioned that she struggled with behaviours of self-mutilation, one of the most indicative traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. Self-mutilation is only one of nine BPD traits, and for a diagnosis you need to severely struggle with at least five of the nine. To count, they must be pervasive, long-standing and life-interfering.
The late English singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse was the subject of much media attention following her longstanding battles with substance abuse. She also suffered from heavy drinking, violent mood swings, volatile relationships, and visible weight loss, and as well as many of her song lyrics being based on these things, she also spoke publicly in interviews of her struggles with depression, self-harm and eating disorders.
Hollywood goddess Marilyn Monroe demonstrated traits of BPD including promiscuity, drug abuse and suicidal ideation. She also suffered from low self-esteem and fear of abandonment, characterised by extreme attachment in relationships.
Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald and writer in her own right also, was hospitalised several times in her life. Although diagnosed with manic depression and schizophrenia, it is likely she also suffered from BPD.
American singer-songwriter and frontman of The Doors Jim Morrison suffered from severe identity disturbance, which is a characteristic of BPD. He felt a deficit in his ‘realness’ and ‘aliveness’ that was caused by internalising important figures from childhood as the scaffolding for his sense of self.
However, to reiterate, all the above are merely suspected to have or to have had BPD. We do not know that any of them have an official diagnosis, and if they have they have chosen to keep it private.
Despite 1.4% of the population having a diagnosis, I did find two celebrities who openly admit to having a diagnosis of BPD. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that those with BPD may struggle with the pressures of fame, but it certainly seems to have a lot to do with the stigma/shame associated with mental illness. Doug Ferrari, also known as ‘Dougzilla’, is an American comedian whose life changed after he was diagnosed with BPD. He suffered from severe anger outbursts (one possible symptom of BPD), hurting those around him and ultimately destroying his home. However he is now dedicated to personal therapy and recovery, regularly performing at charity events in an endeavour to spread awareness about BPD. One courageous American-football superstar, Brandon Marshall, publicly announced that he has borderline personality disorder back in 2011. Marshall even started a foundation to raise awareness about mental health and increase dialogue about mental illness. They may be the only celebrities at the moment admitting to a diagnosis of it, but using the example of ‘Time to Change’, it is the express aim of Borderline Arts to educate and reduce such stigma so that people feel able to speak openly about their experiences, including those in the public eye. For now, we take our hats off to them, and hope that they are the first of many to say ‘Yes I have BPD and I am not ashamed of that. Yes it’s tough, but it’s not who I am, and we can all achieve great things despite the condition’.
To conclude this article, it is important to emphasise that focusing on the struggles faced by these celebrities through their experiences of BPD should not be to the detriment of their achievements and talents. Borderline Arts seeks to liberate sufferers from their condition, to identify them as individuals and not by their condition. Many of the above examples illustrate somewhat extreme examples of BPD, but it is not the intention of this article to use this to in any way sensationalise BPD, rather to acknowledge the spectrum of cases of the disorder. In discussing celebrity cases of BPD this article acknowledges the fine margin that may be drawn between BPD behaviours and cultures of excess in the cult of the celebrity. The two are not mutually exclusive but neither should BPD be viewed as an extension of a lifestyle of decadence and hedonism. Equally, in the light of this article, hopefully the media might be encouraged to provide rather more sympathetic views of celebrity behaviour.
This article is also intended to offer support for BPD sufferers, to provide reassurance that they are not alone in their daily struggles. To paraphrase Alan Bennett:
‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, someone even who is long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.’.