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Keywords:

  • bipolar disorder;
  • borderline personality disorder;
  • unemployment

Zimmerman M, Martinez JH, Young D, Chelminski I, Dalrymple K. Sustained unemployment in psychiatric outpatients with bipolar depression compared to major depressive disorder with comorbid borderline personality disorder. Bipolar Disord 2012: 14: 856–862. © 2012 John Wiley & Sons A/S.Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Objectives:  The morbidity associated with bipolar disorder is, in part, responsible for repeated calls for improved detection and recognition. No such clinical commentary exists for improved detection of borderline personality disorder in depressed patients. Clinical experience suggests that borderline personality disorder is as disabling as bipolar disorder; however, no studies have directly compared the two disorders. For this reason we undertook the current analysis from the Rhode Island Methods to Improve Diagnostic Assessment and Services (MIDAS) project comparing unemployment and disability rates in patients with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.

Methods:  Patients were interviewed with semi-structured interviews. We compared three non-overlapping groups of depressed patients: (i) 181 patients with DSM–IV major depressive disorder and borderline personality disorder, (ii) 1068 patients with major depressive disorder without borderline personality disorder, and (iii) 84 patients with bipolar depression without borderline personality disorder.

Results:  Compared to depressed patients without borderline personality disorder, depressed patients with borderline personality disorder were significantly more likely to have been persistently unemployed. A similar difference was found between patients with bipolar depression and major depressive disorder without borderline personality disorder. No differences were found between patients with bipolar depression and depression with borderline personality disorder.

Conclusions:  Both bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder were associated with impaired occupational functioning and thus carry a significant public health burden. Efforts to improve detection of borderline personality disorder in depressed patients might be as important as the recognition of bipolar disorder.