Personality disorders

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Definition

Personality disorders are a group of mental 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.

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.

Exams and Tests

Personality disorders are diagnosed based on a psychological evaluation. The health care provider will consider how long and how severe the person's symptoms are.

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, medicines are a useful addition.

Outlook (Prognosis)

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

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

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

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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

References

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013.

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.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 10/31/2014
  • Fred K. Berger, MD, Addiction and Forensic Psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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