The Course of Borderline Psychopathology in Adolescents with Complex Mental Health Problems: An 18 Month Longitudinal Follow-up Study

Abstract

A persistent and significant barrier to the diagnosis and treatment of borderline personality disorder (BPD) in adolescents is clinician reluctance to label an adolescent with a stigmatized, intractable, treatment-resistant diagnosis. The goal of the current study was to evaluate this claim by examining the 18-month longitudinal course of borderline pathology in adolescents after discharge from inpatient treatment. 556 adolescent consecutive admissions (64.6% female; ages 12–17, M = 15.29, SD = 1.46) were assessed during admission to an inpatient treatment facility. They were followed up at discharge, 6 months, 12 months and 18 months after discharge with validated self-and parent report measures of adolescent BPD features. Latent growth modeling was used to evaluate outcomes. BPD features showed a significant decline over the follow-up period with very large effect sizes (> .80) for both parent and adolescent self-report. Rates of change were steeper for adolescent report although adolescent report fell below clinical cut-off 6 months later than parent-report. However, when internalizing and externalizing psychopathology were included in latent growth models, youth-reported BPD features did not show the same level of decline, while parent-reported BPD features maintained the same level of decline. The rate of decline between parents and adolescents was correlated, and baseline levels of BPD features were predictive of rate of change. This is the first study to show that adolescent borderline pathology follows a similar course after discharge from inpatient treatment previously demonstrated for adults. Like adult BPD, adolescent BPD appears to be not as intractable and treatment resistant as previously thought, mitigating against therapeutic nihilism.

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Funding

The study was supported by the McNair Family Foundation.

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Correspondence to Carla Sharp.

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Sharp, C., Vanwoerden, S., Gallagher, M.W. et al. The Course of Borderline Psychopathology in Adolescents with Complex Mental Health Problems: An 18 Month Longitudinal Follow-up Study. Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol 49, 545–557 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-020-00756-y

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Keywords

  • Borderline features
  • Course
  • Adolescents