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Personality disorders

Personality disorders are a group of mental health conditions in which a person has a long-term pattern of behaviors, emotions, and thoughts that is very different from his or her culture's expectations. These behaviors interfere with the person's ability to function in relationships, work, or other settings.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Causes of personality disorders are unknown. Genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a role.

Mental health professionals categorize these disorders into the following types:

Symptoms

Symptoms vary widely depending on the type of personality disorder.

In general, personality disorders involve feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that do not adapt to a wide range of settings.

These patterns usually begin in adolescence and may lead to problems in social and work situations.

The severity of these conditions ranges from mild to severe.

Signs and tests

Personality disorders are diagnosed based on a psychological evaluation that assesses the history and severity of the symptoms.

Treatment

At first, people with these disorders usually do not seek treatment on their own. They tend to seek help once their behavior has caused severe problems in their relationships or work. They may also seek help when they are struggling with another mental health problem, such as a mood or substance abuse disorder.

Although personality disorders take time to treat, certain forms of talk therapy are helpful. In some cases, medications are a useful addition.

Expectations (prognosis)

Outlook varies. Some personality disorders improve greatly during middle age without any treatment. Others only improve slowly even with treatment.

Complications

  • Problems with relationships
  • Problems with school or work
  • Other mental health disorders

Calling your health care provider

See your health care provider or mental health professional if you or someone you know has symptoms of a personality disorder.

References

Blais MA, Smallwood P, Groves JE, Rivas-Vazquez RA. Personality and personality disorders. In: Stern TA, Rosenbaum JF, Biederman J, Rauch SL, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 39.

Updated: 11/10/2012

David B. Merrill, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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