Does a ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ qualify as insanity?
Dr. Farrukh Khan and Somya Mishra
What is insanity and what happens in the cases where a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality? Insanity is a term that is not defined by law. As per a standard dictionary, insanity is a mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.
From a strictly scientific point of view, it cannot be doubted that the fever patient in his delirium, or the drunkard in his excitement or stupor, is insane; the brain of either being under the influence of an infective agent or of poison, the mental faculties are deranged; yet such derangements are regarded as functional disturbances, i.e. disturbances produced by agencies which experience tells will, in the majority of cases, pass off within a given period without permanent results on the tissues of the organ.
In a layman’s language, insanity is used synonymously with ‘unsoundness of mind’. According to Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, such insanity should show recurrent attacks in order to disqualify a person from a valid marriage.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness that can be challenging for everyone involved, including the individuals with the illness, as well their friends and family members. BPD is a kind of mental illness that creates frequent fluctuations in one’s moods. It is also known as ‘I-love-you-I-hate-you syndrome. It is called so because it can include strong and changeable feelings of love and hate and great sensitivity to signs of rejection or criticism.
It is a syndrome where the person suffering from it has extreme emotions. There is an extreme point of idealization as well as devaluation. It enlarges the way one feels. BPD also affects interpersonal relationships in an adverse manner. Although Borderlines need attention and affection, they act in an unpredictably contrary, manipulative, and volatile manner in their interpersonal relationships. Persons suffering from BPD create a change in their self-image because they find it difficult to accept reality. In order to mold themselves to their imaginary world, they mold themselves accordingly even if it is not acceptable by a person with a sound mind.
When it comes to a matrimonial home, a spouse suffering from BPD needs to be taken care of and it will be improper to let go of that spouse. On being divorced or separated, the illness will grow and will deteriorate his/her condition. Persons suffering from BPD may idealize another as the caregiver and the lover well desired while also devalue the same person at another point in time feeling that the person does not care enough. In such a case both the spouses need to be there for each other so as to manage the situation. Such a thing can be suggested only if BPD develops in a spouse after the completion of the marriage.
When the marriage has been conducted and it is found that one of the partners has a persisting problem of BPD before the marriage taking place, the marriage can be made void. The difference in both cases is that the marriage cannot be declared void if the initial signs of BPD are found after a substantial time of the occurrence of the marriage.
In the case of R. Lakshmi Narayan v. Santhi, it was said,
“for nullifying a marriage on the ground of insanity or unsoundness of mind, the petitioner has to establish that the respondent was incapable of giving a valid consent in consequence of unsoundness of mind or, though capable of giving consent, has been suffering from mental disorder of such a kind or to such an extent as to be unfit for marriage and procreation of children.”
The disorder in question does not make a spouse incapable of giving consent. An authentic survey report says that BPD and Schizophrenia usually co-exist and that the latter is a higher version of the former. The difference is that people suffering from BPD seem to have gone through more childhood trauma. If we visualize such a situation from the social point of view, such a marriage should not be dissolved because of a mental disease that has developed over a long period of time.
Insanity should be considered on the same ground as any other disease, that both contracting parties owe each other mutual assistance, that one should support the other no matter how painful the consequences of the disease may be, that divorce should therefore not be granted in view of the fact that all the inconveniences resulting from the mental disease can-not possibly have such an offensive character as to deserve dissolution of the marital bond.
BPD may be considered to be included under the general category of insanity as it is a clinically proved mental disease and causes unsoundness of mind but, BPD majorly deals with the emotional aspects of a person rather than the mental ones. Such emotional distress does not affect the actions of a person. Basically, such a mental disease is not to be considered as a part of insanity when it comes to matrimonial laws and especially Section 5 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 because BPD can be controlled by compassion and a matrimonial home requires two people to support each other in the times of need. It is also found that in a few jurisdictions, the insanity statutes specifically exclude all personality disorders from the definition of mental disease. 
After a study of the case of Ms. Sykes , it can be put forth in simple words that BPD does not necessarily constitute insanity. It occurs when the emotions are accentuated and a person is depressed. It is not a disease where the patient will not be able to know the consequences of the acts done.
The person obviously travels into a world beyond reality, but it cannot be said that the person was not in a stable state of mind while acting. However, the determination of the ‘state of mind’ has to be completely left upon the judiciary to decide in several cases. It becomes subjective depending upon the frequency of attacks and the difficulties coming up in the relationship.
- Farlex, (The Free Dictionary)
- Insanity’ (Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1911)
- Ken Duckworth and Jacob L. Freedman ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ (NAMI, 2012)
- Jerold J. Kreisman & Hal Straus, I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality 
- Understanding borderline personality disorder’,  MI Factsheet Series, Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia Inc.
- David Crump and Joan S. Anderson, ‘Effects upon Divorce Proceedings when a spouse suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder,  Family Law Quarterly
- AIR 2001 SC 2110
- Schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder: similarities and differences in the experience of auditory hallucinations, paranoia, and childhood trauma’,  Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Southampton, United Kingdom
- Alfred Gordon, ‘Insanity and Divorce’,  Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology
- Richard J. Bonnie, ‘Should a personality disorder qualify as a mental disease in insanity adjudication?’,  38 J.L. Med. & Ethics 760
- See, ibid
- Dr Farrukh Khan is an Advocate and Managing Partner of Delhi based Law Firm- Diwan Advocates. Somya Mishra is an Advocate, working with Diwan Advocates.