Borderline personality (BPD) can have significant, life-altering symptoms. People who develop BPD often have a history of extreme and chronic abuse, trauma, or maltreatment, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse. Borderline manifests differently for each individual, but many people with BPD experience violent mood swings, fear of abandonment, relationship and self-image problems, self-injury, and impulsivity. Additionally, it is common for people with BPD to also have other mental health problems, most often mood problems such as anxiety, depression (MDD), or posttraumatic stress (PTSD). Stress reactivity and its association and influence on psychological well being have been studied at length. However, until now, no study has looked at how stress reactivity affects people with BPD alone or as a comorbid illness.
Katja Wingenfeld of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Charité University Berlin in Germany led a study to find out if elevated levels of cortisol would affect the memory of people with BPD. She used a participant sample that included 71 females with BPD and 40 females with no history of mental issues. The participants were given hydrocortisone or a placebo prior to completing working memory, autobiographical memory tests (AMT), and memory retrieval tasks. The results revealed that elevated cortisol affected the women differently depending on whether or not they had a comorbid illness.
Specifically, the control participants performed worse on retrieval tasks compared with the BPD participants. In fact, cortisol increases improved the ability of the BPD participants to perform all the memory tasks. Those who also had PTSD performed the best at AMT. But the women with BPD and MDD experienced neither enhanced nor diminished performance. Elevated cortisol in these women resulted in no change in memory performance at all. Wingenfeld believes that these results reveal that two specific subgroups of BPD clients may exist, one group with a history of trauma-based symptoms who respond positively to stress, and another group with mood-related symptoms whose memory abilities are unaffected by elevated stress levels. Wingenfeld added, “Future studies should investigate whether there are subgroups of borderline patients with different endocrine and psychopathological patterns, in addition to potentially related therapeutic options.”
Wingenfeld, K., et al. Effects of cortisol on memory in women with borderline personality disorder: Role of co-morbid post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. Psychological Medicine 43.3 (2013): 495-505. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 3 Feb. 2013.
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