Social Security recognizes that mental health conditions can significantly interfere with your daily life. If you have symptoms of borderline personality disorder that keep you from working full-time for at least a year, you may be able to receive disability benefits such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder that's characterized by significant mood instability and highly impulsive behaviors. People with BPD have difficulty controlling their emotions and often experience intense changes in their personality over short periods of time.
BPD is usually diagnosed by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, after discussion of signs and symptoms. Common symptoms that could result in a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder include:
Like many related mood disorders, treatment for BPD mostly involves talk therapy and, in some cases, medication. Effective treatment for BPD (such as dialectical behavioral therapy) involves helping you learn skills to successfully manage your emotions, handle stress, and improve relationships.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has two ways that disability applicants with borderline personality disorder can qualify for benefits:
Social Security evaluates BPD under listing 12.08 for personality and impulse-control disorders. The SSA 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.
Meeting the requirements of the listing is a two-step process.
Pervasive pattern of symptoms. First, you'll need to show that you've been diagnosed with BPD and have medical documentation of a "pervasive pattern" (ongoing, not just a one-time event) of one or more of the following symptoms:
Marked or extreme limitations. Then, you'll need to show that your symptoms result in an "extreme" limitation in one, or "marked" limitations in two, of the following areas of mental functioning:
Extreme limitations are more serious than marked limitations. For example, somebody whose BPD causes them to need additional supervision and reassurance in order to complete chores—but who does eventually get them done—might have "marked" limitations in the area of concentrating on tasks.
But somebody who frequently loses their temper and refuses to do a simple chore, such as washing dishes, is likely to have an "extreme" limitation in that area.
If the SSA decides your symptoms don't meet the requirements of the personality disorders listing, the agency 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.
A typical RFC for someone with BPD would list the mental limitations that make it difficult to hold down a full-time job. For example, an inability to control emotions and being easily angered are some obstacles that can prevent people with BPD from working full-time.
Additionally, BPD symptoms could make interactions with coworkers difficult or prevent proper responses to reasonable suggestions from supervisors. Anger problems can cause issues in customer service positions.
While some jobs are more solitary in nature, even in those positions an inability to control your emotions (such as becoming so frustrated at a task that you don't finish it) can result in a loss of workplace productivity.
Impulsive behavior can also have a significant impact on your decision-making process. Employers are unlikely to hire and retain employees who leave the work station too frequently or call out too many times.
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 the SSA with your disability application:
Your medical records are the foundation of your disability application, so make sure you keep the SSA in the loop if you start a new treatment or begin seeing a new provider. If you haven't been able to access regular medical treatment for your borderline personality disorder, learn more in our article on getting approved for disability benefits without having seen a doctor.
About 85% of people with borderline personality disorder have other mental illnesses that are "comorbid" (meaning occurring at the same time) with a condition like:
Additional conditions that often overlap with BPD include antisocial personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder, and intermittent explosive disorder. In children, oppositional defiant disorder can sometimes be a precursor to BPD.
For more information, see our article on mental illness and Social Security disability.
Updated June 27, 2023