Tag Archives: psych survivors

“Borderline Personality Disorder” and the Epidemic of Suicides of Rape and Abuse Victims: A Eulogy, a Manifesto, a Rant, and a Prayer

We do not kill rape and abuse victims in this culture, but we know how to respond with such psychological abuse, coercion, victim blaming, and failure to protect the victim from further harm we can make them kill themselves.

Right now, I am enraged at every person who abused and failed in the responses to 5 particular women whose suicides were directly linked to the abuse and violence they faced and the utter failure with which institutions, families, schools, communities, law enforcement, medical professionals, mental health professionals, and our society responded.

Multiple of the women I am referencing were at some point labeled as having borderline personality disorder. Perhaps the most stigmatized diagnosis there is, where studies have found patients are treated with much more cruelty violence and hostility from mental health providers who tend to use adjectives like “manipulative” “angry” and “difficult” to describe the mostly women who are given this diagnosis. Almost all people given this diagnosis have abuse histories, and in fact the exact same criteria that are used to diagnose borderline personality disorder were reconceptualized decades ago as a different diagnosis, complex post traumatic stress disorder, an expected reaction to in particular long term, repeated, chronic, or captivity based abuse. Or alternatively as developmental trauma disorder. Borderline personality disorder is tied as the highest suicide rate of any DSM diagnosis. Between one in eight and one in ten people with the diagnosis end their own life, while one study average number of suicide attempts for people with this diagnosis is three. For perspective, that means that the suffering that can arise out of this type of trauma can make you at least almost 800 times more likely to kill yourself than the average American, where the suicide rate for 2012 was 1 in 7,936.

A few years ago major news outlets were starting to report on the crisis of military sexual assault, and many articles interviewed women who after reporting rape by their “comrades” were dishonorably discharged from the military, losing all benefits and told they would have to pay for their basic training because they were suddenly diagnosed with with borderline personality disorder and told their “pre existing condition” disqualified them.

I am an abuse survivor.
The first time I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder was in an adolescent inpatient unit at age 15 by a psychiatrist who sexually harassed me, and made his diagnosis after sexually assaulting an intern in front of me. Because I was speaking to my experiences of abuse, and resisted his sexual harassment, I was informed, by someone simultaneously sexually assaulting someone in front of me, that my personality, who I am as a human being, is a pervasive disease.

In the past few years there has been a surge of rapes at schools and on campuses that are video taped on smart phones. An unbelievable further violation, you would think these cases could not be more clear. There is literally video evidence. In one of the deaths I am enraged about, it was suggested repeatedly the victim was lying about or wrongly remembering the rape because while intoxicated and in the dark she believed only one person raped her. In fact a video clearly displayed multiple people raped her. Because her memory deviated from the video tape it was repeatedly suggested she was making it up. By some magic leaps of logic, because the video tape was actually more violent than her memory, then it no longer can possibly Be true. She killed herself while in a residential program under the care of a psychiatrist who is considered an international expert on borderline personality disorder in  adolescents, a man who repeatedly failed to report child abuse of his underage clients whose parents were paying him hundreds of thousands of dollars. I can only imagine what victim blaming and dismissal of her assaults she may have faced from him as so many other clients faced. Her school utterly failed her. At the time of her death, she was 20 years old.

I demand a world in which rape does not happen. I demand a world in which when violence does happen, even in supposedly progressive countries on feminist issues, it is not a potential death sentence for a victim who is the one put on trial, picked apart, interrogated, dismissed, invalidated, gaslighted, Pathologized, silenced, ignored, and threatened. Paychiatry is not the answer for healing from violence. People who are labeled with psychiatric disorders are legally deprived of countless human rights, and are abused and tortured, as defined by the United Nations, legally justified as “in the best interest” of the suffering individual. Let me tell you, abuse, and human rights deprivation in hospitals is not the cure for suffering after experiencing abuse and violence.

Of any type of common trauma, rape is the type of trauma most likely to lead to PTSD . Not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD. And research has identified key factors that can protect someone from developing flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, etc. those protective factors include the victim not feeling they are to blame, the victim having a strong support network, the victim not being blamed or dismissed after the trauma among other factors. Failures of support network to respond appropriately and adequately not only greatly increases the likelihood a survivor will develop post traumatic stress, but can actually be the cause of its own separate full fledged PTSD- with flashbacks, night mares, hypervigilence of its own.

Borderline personality disorder is a way to tell victims, the problem is not the abuse, the problem is you as a human being are a sickness. Many experts of the disorder instead of being honest about the fact that childhood abuse is a common risk factor use the phrase that the child was raised in an “invalidating environment”, an environment “mismatched to the child’s temperament”.  Abuse is matched to no ones temperament.  To suggest in coded language a child affected by abuse is overly needy is another form of victim blaming. The diagnosis should No longer be used.

To be clear, By saying borderline personality disorder should no longer be used am not suggesting that no people have the experiences or suffering that are called the “symptoms” of it. I am suggesting we stop pathologizing these understandable responses to trauma as a way to silence victims and ensure they are further mistreated and disbelieved, sentencing them to further trauma, including certainly more hostility in the mental health system, shoving them further towards death. It is reasonable to be traumatized by trauma. Just like it is reasonable to mourn for more than two weeks after the death of someone close to you, and the idea that is a brain disease or mental illness is fucking absurd.

The answers of first steps to decrease the suicide rate of rape victims is shockingly simple.

1. Stop raping and abusing people.
2. realize the failures and further violence and deprivation of human rights, respect, and dignity perpetrated by and in
The systems that supposedly exist to help victims: including law enforcement, school administrations, child protective services, and psychiatry. Do not demand victims utilize these systems. reform and hold the systems and individuals accountable. Take reports of abuse and violence perpetrated by employees of these systems extraordinarily seriously.
3. Stand by victims. 100%, always. Stop communicating with their perpetrator, even if that person is your family member, your co worker, a fellow activist, your friend. Believe victims. Empower victims. Always respect and follow their wishes. Respect their confidentiality. Learn how to respond appropriately to disclosures of violence. Learn how to verbally offer empathy. Do Not ask for details, but offer space for the victim to discuss them. Respect their boundaries, their physical space, their needs. Offer emotional and practical support in the aftermath. realize that it is common for recovery to not be quick. Do not minimize the violence, tell the victims they are over reacting , or to hurry up and heal. Do not demand the victim call themselves a survivor. Recognize that suffering in the aftermath of such an atrocious act is a completely expected response.
4. Create alternatives to psychiatry that are non violent, non coercive, non oppressive, mutual, voluntary, free, accessible. Build peer respites. Create healing homes. Start support groups. Do not believe the lies that violence in the psychiatric industrial complex is the answer for being traumatized by violence, especially when the victim already has a history of trauma or mistreatment from mental health treatment or health care, in institutions, or with authorities.
5. Support the efforts of the psychiatric survivor movement. Informed consent about medications. Abolish coerced and forced treatment. Support holistic and peer based alternatives. Stop pathologizing human experience with oppressive diagnostic categories.

Jennifer L Reimer
Jennifer has published one of the most important theses on this topic I have ever seen, titled “Borderline Personality Disorder and the Control of the Subversive Woman”. She died in April 2014.  She was chronically ill, an abuse survivor, and struggling with anorexia, though the exact cause of death was not shared publicly or immediately clear. Her work is the most important radical mental health literature I have ever seen.

Her work can be viewed at:

And her memory being preserved at:

Thank you Jennifer, for your work. May you rest in peace.

Karen Korn

Karen, a survivor of abuse, and a psychiatric survivor ended her life in November 2014. She was 45 years old. She was a cinematographer who worked on films as well known as Into the Wild and Their Eyes Were Watching God.  She participated in my first Zine, “depictions of self identified madness”. She was an incredible woman who just this past summer was raising funds to try to open a peer respite center that was trauma sensitive in the northwestern US. She is remembered in radical mental health communities for the incredible kindness she was always passing on to other people even despite the violence and cruelty with which the world constantly dealt her. Karen, I miss you dearly. I am so sorry for the ways the world hurt and failed you. May you rest in peace.

Her IMBD Profile: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0466374/
Sara Penrod

Sara, a survivor of abuse who was chronically ill, ended her life in December 2014. She was 28 years old. She was a political organizer remembered by those who knew her as someone who was incredibly intelligent, articulate, and passionate about the causes she cared about.

Her Blog: https://anotherhopeentirely.wordpress.com

Thank you Sara, for your work. I am so sorry for the ways the world hurt and failed you. May you rest in peace.

My heart is so heavy tonight. I am enraged, disgusted, and so deeply mourning.  I will continue saying your names over and over, in the park, on the bus,  in snow, under stars, fighting to make this a better world than the one you left behind.

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Suicide is an Act of Bodily Autonomy- Not Beauty. Response to “Suicide is Not Beautiful”

This post is a direct response to the post “Suicide is Not Beautiful” published by Carrie Anderson http://nursingclio.org/2013/07/25/suicide-is-not-beautiful/

I am a radical mental health activist and zinester, a feminist, a trauma survivor, someone who has lost a friend to suicide, and someone who has survived my own suicide attempts. While I think you are making some interesting points, I find the way you framed this article to be hugely offensive. To me it feels like you are perpetuating the horrendous stereotype of suicidal people being selfish attention seekers. Have you considered that those poets did not kill themselves to make a pretty show for the world but because they were deeply suffering and seeking to end their own suffering? In my experience, beauty has absolutely nothing to do with the vast majority of suicide attempts- it’s not about making art- it’s about making the horrendously painful nightmare life can become stop. Do I agree that people who encourage suicide are ugly? Yes. Do I agree the abusers and oppressors who drive so many to suicide are ugly? Yes. Do I agree the lack of resources needed for healing for many people with mental health issues is ugly? Yes. But are people who choose to end their own lives ugly, stupid, or bad? No.

Although I know many feminists will hotly protest this, I have to say; I feel very strongly that demonizing self-harm is a very anti-feminist stance to take. What is so much of the feminist movement about? The right to autonomy. The right to decide how to live our lives: to pursue careers of our choice, to own property, to choose whom we marry. And the right to be the sole person who makes choices about our bodies: to choose who we are having sex with and have the right to refuse sex to anyone, to choose to have a baby, take birth control, or terminate a pregnancy, the right to not be groped on a bus or beat by a partner, the right to not be devalued based on our physical attributes, and (more controversially) the right to use their own bodies to produce porn, to practice sex work. I am a big fan of the comic series A Softer World by E Horne and J Comeau. Comic #940 reads “Our bodies are ours to break, ours to throw into rivers, ours to light on fire, ours to launch into the depths of space.” http://asofterworld.com/index.php?id=940 In our society only certain types of self-endangerment or self harm or bodily altercation is acceptable. Extreme sports, and smoking cigarettes- both of which have the potential to cause death- are seen as acceptable, but suicide is not. Extensive body piercings and tattoos  (which can cause physical pain to get) are acceptable- but cutting and burning is not. Political prisoners engaging in hunger strikes are not shamed, articles like this never talk about and shame the religious purposes “self harm” have served at various points (including fasting, and Buddhist monks self immolating)- but when a when a depressed woman kills herself it is unacceptable and she is crazy.

Many have criticized western feminism of not being inclusive. Our movement can only gain strength by acknowledging that if we want certain types of bodily autonomy, we should align ourselves with all other movements which fight to demand bodily autonomy of their oppressed members- including the disability movement and the radical mental health/psychiatric survivor movement. If women should be able to make the choice about their body to not always having sex with her partner, a physically disabled person should be able to make the choice to not be sterilized, institutionalized, or forced to receive medical treatment without informed consent. If a woman should be able to choose to have the bodily autonomy of having an abortion, then a person with mental health issues should be able to choose to not have to ingest psychiatric medications, receive electro convulsive therapy, or be hospitalized against their will. And all people should be able to be able to make informed choices about their own body- including societally unacceptable self injury and even ending their own lives. Do I encourage suicide? No. Non-coercive and non-abusive mental health care should be offered to all who wish to receive it. But how does the united states deal with suicidal people? Hospitalize them, restrain or seclude them, or medicate them against their will. All of these things have been considered torture by the United Nations (see page 15 under number 3) “Forced interventions, often wrongfully justified by theories of incapacity and therapeutic necessity inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, are legitimized under national laws, and may enjoy wide public support as being in the alleged “best interest” of the person concerned. Nevertheless, to the extent that they inflict severe pain and suffering, they violate the absolute prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment “ http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session22/A.HRC.22.53_English.pd
Especially considering the wide spread torture of people with mental health issues in our country, it is not surprising suicide rates are so high. Do I desperately wish that people who are suffering after oppression and abuse were able to use their sorrow and trauma to motivate organizing activist movement to overthrow the patriarchy, racism, the abusive practices of western mental health? I wish for nothing more in the world. But trauma survivors and suffering people do the absolute best they can with their pain. And since all those huge oppressive forces don’t seem to be going away in the immediate future yet a trauma survivor or person facing oppression’s crushing depression, debilitating panic attacks and nightmares, unbearable flashbacks, and other experiences may persist- it is extremely unfair to blame survivors of violence for not being able to stop all of our cultures oppression and to have to tolerate continuing to be abused or oppressed, living with the aftermath of being abused or oppressed, or living with extreme pain and suffering for any other reason.

On a final note, saying there should be no more suicidal poets is saying there should be more suicides. Why do you think so many great artists have also happened to have mental health issues? Because creating art, music, writing, etc. is healing and is a way many suffering people are able to stay alive. So when you see a person writing about their suicidal thoughts realize- writing those words is keeping them alive that much longer- and daring to stay alive despite the unbearable violence and oppression women and people with mental health issues in particular face in this world, is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

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