A personality disorder is a condition related to an individual's personality. Until recently, an altered or unbalanced personality was not considered a mental health issue or considered treatable. However, personality disorders are now recognised as lying within the spectrum of mental health disorders and are amenable to treatment.
Personality disorders may arise due to several factors ranging from genetic traits that dictate certain personality features, through to life experiences that determine attitudes towards life and the way people interact with others. The features of a person's personality that may be altered in the case of a personality disorder include behavioural patterns, social interaction, mood and degree of impulsiveness.
A diagnosis of personality disorder is made only if these altered features are having a significant effect on a person's work, personal or social life.
Symptoms of personality disorders
Some of the major features of personality disorders include:
- An inability to sustain meaningful, close or intimate relationships
- Inability to establish a coherent sense of self or self identity
- Irritability and mood swings
- Violent, manipulative, demanding, fearful or even hostile behaviour
- Alcohol or drug use
- Worsening of symptoms with stress
- Being secluded or introverted
- Co-existence of other psychiatric disorders such as eating disorders, anxiety, depression and mood disorders
- Sexual deviation and problems
- Suicidal thoughts and attempts
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosing personality disorders remains a challenge and the condition is often diagnosed while diagnosing other co-morbid psychiatric or mood disorders such as anxiety, depression or eating disorders.
Types of personality disorder
There are three major groups of personality disorders - groups A, B and C:
Cluster A personality disorders generally describe conditions where individuals live in a fantasy world and are out of touch with reality, such as paranoid personality disorder.
Cluster B disorders manifest with extreme mood swings, an inability to control feelings and emotional outbursts. An example would be borderline personality disorder.
Cluster C disorders are typically characterized by fear and anxiety with very withdrawn, introverted behaviour and low self-esteem.
Some mild-to-moderate personality disorders are treatable with psychotherapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy or with counselling. Others may require medication in addition to psychotherapy, mainly to stabilize mood and treat any associated psychiatric components of the condition.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc