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Personality Disorders and Social Media

In last night’s (March 17th) Channel 4 documentary Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death, relatives and friends of the bubbly television presenter discussed some of the private struggles that Caroline faced in the run up to her suicide in February of last year and the role that relationships and the media, and social media in particular, played.


Her mother Christine and twin sister Jody painted the image of a woman who experienced great highs and devastating lows. Unlike her twin sister, Caroline struggled to make relationships work and found breakups unbearable. Several times she found herself in A&E following a separation, as she used alcohol, pills and self-harm to handle her difficult emotions. “She was feeling things so much more deeply than I would have done in the same situation,” a friend said. “And I don’t think I really got that when we were younger. And now I get it, now I understand… there would be a certain point where you would think, ‘Oh, come on, it’s not that bad.’ But I think probably it was that bad.”


While it is unclear whether Caroline was ever diagnosed with having a personality disorder, the descriptions by those who knew her, suggest she had symptoms consistent with those experienced by people suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. BPD is estimated to affect 1.6% of the population and 20% of the psychiatric inpatient population [1]. It is characterised by hypersensitivity to rejection and resulting instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, affect and behaviour’ [2]. Therefore sufferers of BPD often fear abandonment, seek constant reassurance, experience persistent loneliness, struggle to regulate their emotions and act on impulse.


Caroline was addicted to social media, and according to the documentary, this exacerbated her mental health problems. Olly Murs, her X Factor co-host described the social media reception as like being ‘beaten up’, and fellow presenter Dermot O’Leary added ‘she hated it (social media) but she couldn’t live without it’. Consultant Clinical Psychologist Maria Downs explains that individuals who are suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder or

sbowing characteristics of it, are vulnerable to becoming addicted to social media as they seek consistent reassurance, and social connection and validation’.


A study last year, titled Functioning in Borderline Personality Disorder Traits: A Social Media Perspective [3] found those who showed higher BPD traits were more likely to post regularly on social media. They are also more likely to experience ‘regret’ after posting and are therefore more likely to delete or edit posts. ‘They also report a higher degree of importance of social media in their social behaviour and daily routines. These results highlight the pervasiveness of interpersonal difficulties associated with BPD features even in the non-clinical population and demonstrate that these difficulties are also observable in social media behaviour.’


It is unclear if Caroline ever received a diagnosis or treatment for her difficulties, but the difficulties experienced by Caroline can be alleviated with appropriate therapy. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is a type of therapy specifically designed to treat BPD. It works by validating the person’s emotions and helping them to see that the way feel is valid and real and helps them to gradually learn to tolerate and manage seemingly overwhelming feelings.

If you feel you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder help is available. Contact a GP, or for more information go to the NHS website. Overview - Borderline personality disorder - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Rebecca Mortby

Sources

1. Ellison WD, Rosenstein LK, Morgan TA, Zimmerman M. Community and Clinical Epidemiology of Borderline Personality Disorder. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2018 Dec;41(4):561-573. [PubMed]

2. Jennifer Chapman; Radia T. Jamil; Carl Fleisher. Borderline Personality Disorder. 2020. [Borderline Personality Disorder - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)]

3. Ooi, J., Michael, J., Lemola, S. et al. Interpersonal Functioning in Borderline Personality Disorder Traits: A Social Media Perspective. Sci Rep 10, 1068 (2020).

4. NHS. Treatment – Borderline Personality Disorder. 2021. [Treatment - Borderline personality disorder - NHS (www.nhs.uk)]

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