Promoting mental health, demystifying mental illness, countering stigma and discrimination

Personality Disorder

What are Personality Disorders?

Personality Disorders are enduring disorders that, in varying degress, affect a person's ability to manage their relationships with people and function in every day activities. While most people can live pretty normally with mild personality disorders (or more simply, personality traits), during times of increased stress or pressure, the symptoms of the personality disorder will gain strength and begin to seriously interfere with their emotional and psychological functioning.

People with a more serious personality disorder often unknowingly alienate those who know and wish to support them. Given time, however, and where there is appropriate treatment and support, many of those affected can learn to successfully manage their emotions and relationship skills.

There are ten different types of personality disorders, ranging from the well known such as Borderline Personality Disorder to the lesser known such as Schizotypal Personality Disorder.

What are the symptoms of Personality Disorder?

People with a personality disorder possess several distinct psychological features including disturbances in self image; ability to have successful interpersonal relationships; appropriateness of range of emotion, ways of perceiving themselves, others, and the world; and difficulty possessing proper impulse control.

People with a severe personality disorder have difficulty in relating to others and the world around them. They may have difficulties in compromising, have marked impulsiveness and intense outbursts of anger, depression and anxiety. They may alternate between aggressively rejecting care and support, to being afraid of being left alone with feelings of abandonment. This may result in extreme behaviour such as self-mutilation and attempted suicide. Such behaviour often dismissed as 'attention seeking' or 'manipulation' is a symptom of the disorder and requires professional treatment.

What causes them?

There are as many potential causes of personality disorders as there are people who suffer from them. They may be caused by a combination of parental upbringing, one's personality and social development, as well as genetic and biological factors. These disorders will most often manifest themselves during times of increased stress and interpersonal difficulties in one's life. Treatment therefore most often focuses on increasing one's coping and interpersonal skills.

How are they treated?

Personality disorders can be challenging to treat. Treatment can help some people manage, reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of personality disorder. Currently the most effective treatments are via Dialectical Behaviour Therapy prgrammes, individualised medications and family interventions.

Medication may be helpful in relieving associated symptoms such as depression and/or anxiety.

The following websites provide information on personality disorders:

A collection of resources for people affected by their own or another's Borderline Personality Disorder.

A very useful NZ website with resource data on most mental illnesses.

An international website with data on most mental illnesses.

National Institute of Mental Health (US) Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) site

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Taranaki Mental Health Sector