Does Social Security Grant Disability Benefits for Borderline Personality Disorder?

If someone with BPD has so much trouble conforming to social expectations that working and keeping a job has become impossible, disability benefits may be available.

If you suffer from borderline personality disorder and it affects your ability to function at work, you may be able to receive Social Security disability benefits.

About Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental illness which is characterized by significant emotional instability and uncertainty about one’s identity. Specifically, individuals with BPD have difficulty controlling their emotions and often experience significant changes in their personality over short periods of time.


Someone suffering from BPD will likely have many of the the following symptoms:

  • looking at things in extremes, such as everything being bad or good
  • frequent, wide mood swings
  • rapid change in interests and values
  • fear of being abandoned that can lead to frantic efforts to prevent real or perceived abandonment
  • pattern of unstable, intense relationships
  • frequent displays of inappropriate, intense anger
  • antagonistic behavior that leads to fights and other disputes
  • impulsiveness, which often includes risky behaviors
  • acts of self-injury, and
  • short, intense episodes of depression or anxiety (lasting no more than a few days).


When BPD is left untreated, the following complications may result.

  • drug abuse
  • problems with work, family, and relationships, including frequent and repeated job losses
  • suicide attempts or actual suicide, and/or
  • results of risky behaviors, such as car accidents, sexually transmitted diseases, or unexpected pregnancies.

Additionally, those with BPD frequently have other mental illnesses (approximately 85%) as well, including:

  • depression
  • anxiety disorders
  • eating disorders, or
  • bipolar disorder.

Another disorder,  oppositional definance disorder, is sometimes a precursor to BPD.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits

In order to qualify for disability benefits through Social Security, including Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you must show that you are unable to work due to your impairment. You can convince Social Security of this in one of two ways.

  • Meeting a listing.  To meet a listing, you must show that you have all of the criteria noted for a medical listing in the Social Security “blue book,” which describes impairments that will automatically qualify an individual for Social Security disability.
  • Inability to work.  To show an inability to work, you must provide evidence that you are unable to do any job. Social Security will consider your physical and mental abilities and impairments using its Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form and will look at your age, job experience, and work history in considering your ability work.

Meeting a Listing

There is a specific listing for personality disorders in the “blue book,” though borderline personality disorder is not separated out from other personality disorders. Social Security defines personality disorders as disorders characterized by inflexibility and an inability to adapt to different situations, which causes significant impairment in social relationships or the ability to get or maintain a job. To meet this listing, you must prove you meet the requirements of both of the following areas.

  • The presence of a deeply ingrained inability to adapt, characterized by:
    • the desire to be secluded
    • inappropriate suspiciousness or hostility
    • odd thoughts, perceptions, speech, and behavior
    • persistent mood disturbances, or
    • intense and unstable relationships with impulsive and damaging behaviors.
  • This inability to adapt causes at least two of the following:
    • restriction in activities of daily living that disrupts your ability to function
    • difficulty with social functioning to the point where it disrupts your ability to interact with others
    • difficulties with concentration that affect your ability to complete tasks, or
    • repeated  episodes of decompensation.

Medical Evidence

Social Security wants to get your specific symptoms and laboratory findings from your psychiatrist or psychologist, as well as the effect of your impairments on your functional abilities and how long your impairments are expected to last. You should submit the following to Social Security with your disability application:

  • medical records, including:
    • mental status examinations
    • psychological testing
    • personality measures testing, and/or
    • neuropsychology testing.
  • a statement in your own words describing how your BPD makes it difficult to work, and
  • statements from others who have close contact with you, including other health care providers or family or friends.

Social Security will also want to see your treatment history over a period of time. While this is not mandatory, it would be very helpful to provide if available.

Inability to Work

If Social Security decides your condition doesn't meet the requirements of the personality disorders listing, it will consider whether your limitations should really be keeping your from working. To do this, Social Security will create a mental residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment for you. An RFC for someone with BPD would list the mental limitations that make it difficult to work and hold down a job.

The lack of control of emotions and tendency towards anger that cannot be controlled would be the biggest obstacles for individuals with BPD getting and maintaining a job. Such characteristics would make working with coworkers difficult and could prevent an individual from responding properly to supervision. Also, anger problems may cause issues if an individual is asked to deal with customers. While there are solitary jobs available, the inability to control one’s emotions could hinder the ability to complete a task (for example, becoming angry and frustrated due to difficulty with a task and stopping the task). Impulsivity could also drastically affect the decision-making process and the ability to succeed in the workplace.

For more information, see our article on  how Social Security uses mental RFCs to determine disability.

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