[Symptoms of DSM IV borderline personality disorder in a nonclinical population of adolescents: study of a series of 35 patients]

H Chabrol, K Chouicha, A Montovany, S Callahan
L'Encéphale 2001, 27 (2): 120-7
1,363 high school students were solicited to complete a personality disorder questionnaire and were encouraged to continue in the study by signing up for interviews with Master's level psychology students. 107 students (7.8%, 34 males, 73 females, mean age = 16.7 +/- 1.8) manifested themselves for the interview and were assessed by using structured diagnostic interviews for borderline personality disorder and major depressive disorder (DIB-R, Revised Diagnostic Interview for Borderlines; MINI, Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview). The interviews were audiotaped. Interrater reliability was determined by independent ratings of 12 borderline subjects and 12 non-borderline subjects (kappa: 0.795). The distribution of the 107 subjects based on the number of DSM IV borderline personality disorder criteria indicated a gradual dispersion suggesting a continuum from normality to borderline personality disorder: 8% of the subjects met none of the criteria; 16% met one criterion; 17% met two; 12.5%, three; 13.7%, four; 8.4%, five; 5.6%, six; 9.3%, seven; 4.6%, eight; 4.6%, nine. Thirty-five of these 107 subjects (32.7%, 6 males, 29 females, mean age = 16.7 +/- 1.7) received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder according to DSM IV criteria. The most frequent symptoms were paranoid ideation or dissociative symptoms (97.1%), affective instability (88.6%), inappropriate, intense anger (85.6%), suicidal gestures or automutilation (82.9%), followed by frantic efforts to avoid abandonment (77%), impulsivity (65.7%), unstable and intense relationships (62.9%), identity disturbance (60%), and emptiness (57.1%). The comparison between borderline and non-borderline subjects showed that all borderline personality disorder criteria discriminated significantly between the two groups. The high incidence of paranoid ideation (97.1%) and dissociative experiences (65.7%) in the borderline group suggests the pertinence of criterion 9 in the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder in adolescents. Two criteria of schizotypal personality disorder were also frequent in this group: 68.6% of the borderline group reported odd beliefs or magical thinking, in particular beliefs in clairvoyance or telepathy and 88.6% reported unusual perceptual experiences, in particular sensing the presence of a force or person and bodily illusions. Moreover, 31.4% of the borderline group reported transient "quasi" psychotic experiences, mainly "quasi" visual hallucinations. Auditory hallucinations or delusional ideas were not observed. This symptomatology suggests a "quasi" psychotic dimension of adolescent borderline personality disorder. Affective instability was the next most frequent symptom which was usually marked by a cyclothymic appearance. Comorbidity with major depressive disorder was high: 85.7% of the borderline subjects had a concurrent diagnosis of major depression versus 45.8% of the non-borderline subjects. Thus, major depression is more frequent than most of the borderline personality disorder criteria, with the exception of the already noted paranoid ideation and affective instability. Hypomanic symptoms were frequent in the borderline group (65.7%) as well as in the non-borderline group (38.8%). This symptomatology suggests that adolescent borderline personality disorder is linked to an attenuated bipolar spectrum characterised by major depressive episodes and soft signs of bipolarity. However, hypomanic symptoms, which were quite frequent in non-borderline subjects, might also be due to a mechanism of defence, i.e. the denial of depression. Comorbidity with anxiety disorders appeared also to be high: anxiety symptoms were found in 91.4% of the borderline subjects who reported symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and somatoform disorders. The overall clinical appearance of these borderline adolescents not referred for treatment seemed to be quite similar to that of borderline adolescents in clinical samples. This study shows that adolescent borderline personality disorder in non-clinical population is a serious disorder characterised by the importance of mental suffering and behavioural disturbances the disorganising power of which may fix the developmental process in a pathological pathway. Adolescent borderline personality disorder appears in this study to be strongly associated with major depressive disorder and at-risk behaviours linked to impulsivity, affective instability, and suicidal ideation. However, this study found an absence of precise cut-off between borderline and non-borderline subjects. Two factors might have contributed to the appearance of a continuum. First, some degree of impulsivity and instability in affectivity, self-images and interpersonal relationships is part of normal adolescence. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED)

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