The threat of suicide

Cutting behavior

Living with someone with BPD often means you must be on suicide watch all the time. People with BPD may be constantly suicidal and this is very wearing emotionally on the people that love them. Some believe that people with BPD may need to feel suicidal so that they can feel there is an escape from their problems. This is very difficult to deal with. My husband used to threaten, attempt or otherwise talk about suicide 3 days out of 5. He did that for years. It gets to you very quickly and it can make you very angry. In some ways a person with BPD threatening suicide is like a child saying they will hold their breath until they turn blue. It is often a reactionary respons to some perceived wrong you have done them. The difference is that a child cannot kill themselves by holding their breath but a borderline can kill themselves very easily. These people have almost no impulse control and emotions that seesaw and swing violently from one extreme to another. This is a recipe for danger and is the reason people with BPD are at the top of the suicide statistics list regarding mental illnesses.

In my experience and research, there are three types of suicide/suicidal ploys people with BPD will employ*:

Angry-Reactionary Threat/Attempt: This is a reaction to something you have done to them, perceived or real. It is a punishment of sorts, to “show you” what you have caused, what you have driven them to do. It should be taken seriously, as all suicidal threats should be.

Manipulative Threat/Attempt: Seems to be the most common. This is a ploy to get you to do what they want or to try and make a point and is often followed by a “staged” but nonetheless real attempt. Borderlines will use a threat of suicide to try and stop you from leaving them or to get whatever it is they are trying to get, such as sympathy, attention, etc. and they will take it as far as they need to in order to achieve this. It should be taken seriously because people with BPD have no real awareness of consequences and could very easily kill themselves “by accident.” [I use the words staged and by accident because the intention behind this particular attempt doesn’t seem to be to cause death but to regain control. This by no means suggests that suicidal behavior in this category should be ignored or made light of. My husband almost died because of one of these types of attempts. They are very serious.] 

Depressive Attempt/Threat: A “real” suicide attempt where the intention is to cause death. People with BPD believe they are somehow fundamentally damaged or broken. In other words, no good. My husband uses terms for himself like “damaged goods”, “toxic waste” and other similar labels (of course, he attributes them to me and says I feel that way about him, which is called ‘projection’ and is very, very common among BPD sufferers). This feeling plagues them their entire life and at times they just cannot take it anymore. This is the “true face” of BPD, with all the anger, manipulation and other defense mechanisms cast aside and it is ugly and painful. It’s no wonder they don’t want to face it.

It is very difficult, painful and terrible when a loved one has a mental illness. Add the stress of constant suicide threats or attempts to that and it can be almost unbearable. Please do not suffer alone and please do not ignore your loved one’s words. Even if you’ve heard it 1,000 times and all it makes you want to do is roll your eyes or slap them. This time could be the time they really do it. And if you are in a situation you cannot handle, please call 911.

You should never ignore a person talking about suicide but there are times you should react immediately. Some of these include:

  • Appearing depressed or sad most of the time
  • Talking or writing about death or suicide
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling strong anger or rage
  • Feeling trapped — like there is no way out of a situation
  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Exhibiting a change in personality
  • Acting impulsively
  • Losing interest in most activities
  • Experiencing a change in sleeping habits
  • Experiencing a change in eating habits
  • Losing interest in most activities
  • Performing poorly at work or in school
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Writing a will
  • Feeling excessive guilt or shame
  • Acting recklessly

    Now some of these apply to a person with BPD anyway so you will have to use your judgment of your loved one as best you can. Many people who commit suicide do not exhibit any warning signs at all but about 75% of people who commit suicide do and people with BPD are very emotional and reactionary, so pay attention to what they say and do, even if you’ve heard it 100 times.

    Some immediate crisis situations I have experienced are:

    • The person with BPD is crying uncontrollably for a long period of time
    • The person has locked him- or herself away somewhere
    • The person has picked up a knife, rope, gun, razor blade, etc. [LEAVE FIRST!]
    • The person is hitting him- or herself or banging their head against walls or the floor
    • The person is cutting or engaging in self-mutilating behavior
    • The person says they have taken pills or something similar
    • You cannot find the person

    In ANY of these situations, please call 911. It is better to be safe than sorry. They will help your loved one.

    If you are not in a crisis situation, you can call these numbers:

    If you are not in immediate danger because of thoughts of suicide, but need someone to talk with about your suicidal feelings, please do not hesitate to call one of the following national suicide prevention lines:

    1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
    1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

    Here is a list of Suicide Prevention Hotlines by state:

    *Suicide Warning Signs taken from


    *This is not intended to be or replace medical advice. It is only my experience. Suicide is a very real danger and it is never the answer. Please contact a professional if you are worried.

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