Personality Disorders: Diagnosis, Causes and Treatments

Personality disorders are difficult to diagnose because several symptoms overlap. Once diagnosed, treatments for personality disorders include therapy, medication and hospitalization.

Personality is considered a combination of your thoughts, emotions and behaviors, the way you view, understand and relate to the outside world, and the perception you have of yourself. Personality disorders are diseases of the aspects of your personality. People with personality disorders have trouble perceiving and relating to other people, themselves and situations.


Generally beginning in childhood, personality disorders may be the result of verbal, physical or sexual abuse during childhood, an unstable childhood family, loss of parents to death, childhood neglect, or a traumatic divorce of a child’s parents. A family history of personality or mental disorders also increases the risk factor of other family members developing a personality disorder. Psychiatrists believe that personality disorders are a result of a combination of genetics and environmental influences.


Personality disorders are difficult to diagnose due to overlapping symptoms within the disorders and with other mental disorders. Psychiatrists are often hesitant to diagnose children with personality disorders because the symptoms may be related to a temporary developmental stage or the children’s way of experimenting with rules and finding themselves. General symptoms of personality disorders include unhealthy, rigid behaviors and thinking patterns, difficulty keeping relationships, problems at school or work, blaming others for your problems, and difficulty handling stress, problems and setbacks. People with personality disorders may also exhibit mood swings, social isolation, angry outburst, suspicion or mistrust of others, poor impulse control, difficulty making friends, and alcohol or substance abuse. If afflicted with a personality disorder, it is often times more difficult to recognize you need help than it is for a doctor to diagnose you. Distorted ways of thinking seem natural to a person with a personality disorder because it is the only way he has ever known how to think, react and feel.


When attempting to diagnose a personality disorder, doctors may require a physical exam, laboratory testing, including a complete blood count (CBC), drug and alcohol screening, and a psychological evaluation. During an evaluation, doctor and patient will discuss the patient’s thoughts, feelings, current and past relationships, and behavior patterns. Patients will also need to address any thoughts of self-injury or harm to others. The physician will also be interested in the duration of the symptoms, similar episodes, severity of symptoms and how the patient feels the symptoms are affecting their lives.


Psychiatrists will use the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, to give a patient a diagnosis. Diagnoses rely heavily on a patient’s ability to clearly communicate during the psychological evaluation and thereafter with their treatment teams. There are no diagnostic tests to aid in diagnosis. Hospitals, residential programs and physicians will monitor a patient’s behavior, but due to the fact that symptoms are shared across the category of personality disorders, an accurate diagnosis may be difficult to determine. Having a diagnosis is important to insurance companies to reimburse patients and doctors for visits, prescriptions and care.


A patient’s treatment team may consist of any combination of the following: primary care physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, pharmacist, family and social workers. Patients need to take an active part in their treatment, which may include therapy, hospital visits and medication. Antidepressants, anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers are used to treat personality disorders. The most important part of a patient’s treatment plan is the patient’s participation. Those who suffer from personality disorders need to take an active role in their treatment by attending doctor appointments, being honest about thoughts and feelings, taking medications as prescribed and recognizing that their disease is not their fault.


Personality disorders include Anti-Social Personality Disorder, Avoidant Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, Paranoid Personality Disorder, Schizoid Personality Disorder and Schizotypal Personality Disorder.



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