In “Girl, Interrupted,” the book made famous by Susanna Kaysen and later turned film starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, the story chronicles an adolescent girl hospitalized for her depression and borderline personality disorder. Largely autobiographical, the main character, Susanna herself, exhibits textbook symptoms, displaying impulsive, risky behavior, promiscuity and is hospitalized after a suicide attempt at the famous McLean’s hospital in Massachusetts. Both the film and book portray a first-hand account of what it may feel like to be someone quite literally losing their mind and sense of self in real time.
Depression and personality disorders affect both men and women, but are prevalent for some reason or another in young adolescent females. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “nearly 15 million Americans — one in 10 adults — experience depression each year” and unlike Susanna, “about two-thirds do not get the help they need.” The rate of depression in women is double that of men, transcending race and ethnicity. Severe depression, if left untreated or unacknowledged, can be devastating and oftentimes fatal.
Depression often does not work alone. In Susanna’s case, she also suffered from borderline personality disorder. Compounding the effects of intense sadness, borderline personality disorder attacks a person’s self-image. In “Girl, Interrupted,” Susanna describes an instance of total dissociation with herself in which she bites herself and demands x-rays of her body just to believe she’s “real.” This type of identity disturbance is well known within the study of the disorder and is accompanied by chronic feelings of emptiness, intense out-of-place anger, paranoid thoughts and a cycle of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships.
Young women suffering from borderline personality disorder express feelings, and efforts to avoid, “real or imagined abandonment,” one source states. This chronic anxiety is matched only by the impulsivity displayed by these patients. Often, patients of borderline personality disorder participate in “potentially self-damaging behaviors” such as reckless driving, binge eating, substance abuse and sex. In “Girl, Interrupted,” examples of all of these are shown, if not in Susanna then in another patient.
The coupling of depression with another illness such as borderline personality disorder is widely understood today, but was not always. Fairwinds Treatment Facility in Clearwater, FL, boasts expertise in treatment for personality disorders, making it one of the top addiction treatments centers in Florida. Fairwinds uses the Dual Diagnosis approach developed by Dr. El-Yousef 25 years ago, using both therapeutic counseling and clinical treatment to understand patients’ psychological triggers, such as depression or anxiety, for substance addictions and eating disorders. A benefit to many young women who suffer from addictions harshly complemented by eating disorders, Fairwinds is also home to Dr. Pauline Powers, an international renowned and accredited expert in the field of eating disorders treatment.