Aman Ahluwalia-CameronDoctoral student Aman Ahluwalia-Cameron is part of a team examining the experiences of social workers who provide care to people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Social workers caring for people living with Borderline Personality Disorder focus of study

A study by a trio of UWindsor researchers will examine clinical experiences of social workers who provide care to people living with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

The first of its kind in Canada, the project received a Partnership Engage grant of $24,975 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Professors Adrian Guta and Elizabeth Donnelly and doctoral candidate Aman Ahluwalia-Cameron of the School of Social Work have partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association Windsor-Essex.

BPD is a mental health diagnosis characterized by intense and rapid changes in mood, complex diagnostic criteria, and limited treatment options. Persons living with BPD can experience considerable challenges with social integration, and significant social costs, such as difficulty maintaining personal and professional relationships. BPD is considered one of the most stigmatized mental health diagnoses. According to the literature, individuals living with BPD are often labelled by healthcare practitioners as attention-seeking or manipulative.

“These kinds of labels are very harmful to individuals,” says Ahluwalia-Cameron. “Previous research indicates that many healthcare and social service providers hold some sort of stigma towards those living with BPD, but social workers have yet to be studied.”

In Ontario, there are more than 18,000 social workers in the healthcare system, the third-largest profession after physicians and nurses.

“The goal of this research is to speak to social workers about their experiences of providing care as they are quite often the front-line mental health care providers in our healthcare system,” Ahluwalia-Cameron says. “I hope to speak to social workers who practise in ways that challenge these beliefs.”

Ahluwalia-Cameron has a decade of clinical experience as a social worker with clients diagnosed with BPD. This experiential knowledge has been the impetus for her doctoral work focusing on provider-based stigma.

“People living with BPD are part of a high-risk population, without a lot of accessible treatment options in the community, she says. “With this project, we hope to address gaps at the practice, policy and system levels within the context of social work practice.”

Currently Ahluwalia-Cameron is conducting pilot interviews with a sample of social workers.

“What I’ve found with the pilot study is social workers are extremely motivated to help with this research,” she says.

Ideally Ahluwalia-Cameron would do all interviews in person, but due to COVID-19, she has been conducting pilot interviews remotely, which she says took some adjustment but has worked well.

“We hope to interview 30 social workers and 15 people with lived experience.”

The researchers hope to connect with persons living with BPD with the facilitation of social workers at CMHA-WE.

“I’m so grateful for the support I’ve received from Dr. Guta and all my committee members to secure the funding for this project,” Ahluwalia-Cameron says.

In addition to the funding provided by SSHRC, the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences will provide a cash contribution of $2,000 to support Ahluwalia-Cameron in presenting her work at a future research conference.