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personality disorders

Personality disorders are chronic mental disorders. People with these disorders have behaviours that make it hard for them to function in society. Affected people usually do not learn from mistakes and do not adapt well to changes in their lives. The genisis of these disorders can usually be identified in behavioural patterns exhibited in childhood. In many cases the severity of the maladaptive pattern of behaviour lessens in older adulthood.

What is going on in the body?
Most people can live fairly normal lives with mild disorders. But when stress increases, symptoms often increase and begin to interfere with the person's ability to function.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
Each personality disorder has different symptoms. People with these disorders have long-standing troubles in their relationships. Problems at work are also common. There are many different personality disorders, including these:
  • paranoid -- affected people think others are out to get them
  • schizoid -- affected people are "loners" and prefer to be alone
  • schizotypal -- affected people have very strange thoughts and beliefs
  • histrionic -- affected people are very emotional and dramatic
  • narcissistic -- affected people are very self-centered and think they are better than others
  • antisocial -- affected people lack a conscience, take advantage of others, and refuse to obey the laws of society
  • borderline -- affected people have unstable relationships and a poor self-image
  • avoidant -- affected people feel inferior to others and fear rejection
  • dependent -- affected people rely too much on others, often staying in abusive relationships because they fear being alone
  • obsessive-compulsive -- affected people are more concerned with the rules than the goal of an activity
  • passive-aggressive -- affected people are aggressive in a passive way, such as being late on purpose
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
The various personality disorders have different aetiological mechanisms which are usually multifactoral. Some theories include:
  • biological causes, such as genetic defects, or head injury
  • social causes, or learned responses
  • psychological causes, such as poor parent-child relationships
What can be done to prevent the condition?
There are no known ways to prevent these disorders. It is known that having a solid, loving home life is important for healthy personality development.

How is the condition diagnosed?
The diagnosis is made on the basis of a person's symptoms and behaviours. The specific disorder is diagnosed when the person's symptoms match the traits for that disorder.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
People with these disorders tend to have life-long problems in relationships and at work.

What are the risks to others?
Many people with severe personality disorders cause considerable dislocation to the lives of other people with whom they are in close contact. This is particularly applicable to the family environment.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Personality disorders are hard to treat. Treatments that focus on increasing social and coping skills tend to be helpful. Medications may be used to reduce anxiety and depression. Family and group psychotherapy may also be helpful.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
All medications can have side effects. The side effects depend on which medications are used.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
People with these disorders often do not follow the treatment plan. No cure is available, so treatment does not stop unless the affected person wants it to.

How is the condition monitored?
These disorders are usually permanent and affected people need to be monitored for life.

Author: Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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