Christina’s sister was 28 when she was formally diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, though Christina, who asked that we not use her last name to protect her family’s privacy, says there had been signs of the disorder for years.
Beginning in her teens, Christina’s sister, now 30, struggled with eating disorders, self-harm, addiction and suicide attempts, and her family often felt they had to “walk on eggshells” around her to avoid triggering a change in mood.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, BPD is a mental illness that causes mood and behavioral instability, which can lead to impulsive decision-making and unstable relationships. Episodes of anger, depression and anxiety are common, too, as well as the behaviors exhibited by Christina’s sister.
But Christina plays a vital role in her sister’s well-being, acting as her confidante and emergency contact, and offering her compassion where others might not.
“She doesn’t have a very large support network, since she tends to lose relationships or cut people off. She knows I am always there for her, whether we are on speaking terms or not,” Christina says.
“One of the toughest moments was when she sent me a goodbye email at 1 a.m., saying that she had taken a bottle of pills and was calling it quits. I had to call the ambulance and race over to her place just in time to help her. It’s an experience I wish upon no one and I never like when the thought ‘What if I hadn’t been awake when she sent that email?’ comes into my mind.”
Acting as that safety net often falls to siblings. A 2008 study of individuals with schizophrenia found that the vast majority were unmarried and therefore didn’t have partners to care for them. Since parental support can’t last forever, most schizophrenics in the study turned to their siblings for help; the same is true for people with other types of mental illnesses. Considering about 1 in 5 Americans will experience mental illness in any given year, plenty of siblings will be called on to provide support.
Read More: What It’s Like to Support A Sibling With A Mental Illness
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