Does Social Security Grant Disability Benefits for Borderline Personality Disorder?

If someone with BPD has so much trouble controlling behavior that keeping a job has become impossible, disability benefits may be available.

By , Contributing Author

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 that is characterized by significant emotional instability and highly impulsive behaviors. 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 borderline personality disorder will likely have many of 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, or
  • short, intense episodes of depression or anxiety (lasting no more than a few days).

Overlapping Conditions

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

  • depression
  • anxiety disorders
  • eating disorders, or
  • bipolar disorder.
In addition, the symptoms of BPD often overlap with antisocial personality disorder and schizotypal personality disorder; another disorder, oppositional defiance 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 insurance (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 disability listing for all personality disorders in the "blue book" that covers borderline personality disorder (as well as schizotypal personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, and others). 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 the listing for personality disorders, you must prove you meet the requirements of both of the following areas.

    • A diagnosis of a personality disorder plus one of the following:
      • inappropriate suspiciousness or distrust of others
      • detachment from social relationships
      • unstable personal relationships with impulsive and damaging behaviors
      • disregard for and violation of the rights of others;
      • excessive emotionality and attention-seeking behavior
      • feelings of inadequacy
      • excessive need to be taken care of
      • preoccupation with perfectionism and orderliness, or
      • recurrent, impulsive, and aggressive behavioral outbursts.
    • Severe limitations in functioning; either an extreme limitation in one of the following areas or a "marked" (severe) limitation in two of the following areas:
      • concentrating on tasks (completing tasks in a timely manner, ignoring or avoiding distractions while working, changing activities or work settings without being disruptive, working close to or with others without interrupting or distracting them)
      • adapting or managing oneself (adapting to changes, controlling one's behavior, being aware of normal hazards and taking appropriate precautions)
      • interacting with others (responding to suggestions, criticism, correction, and challenges appropriately)
      • learning, understanding and remembering information (following oral instructions, using reason and judgment to make work-related decisions).

    Medical Evidence

    Social Security wants to see your specific symptoms and any 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 you 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 a tendency towards anger that cannot be controlled would be the biggest obstacles for individuals with BPD to 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.

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