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This factsheet provides a basic description of personality disorders, their symptoms and the
treatments and support options available.
What is a personality disorder?
Personality disorder is a relatively new diagnosis in the field of mental health. As its name
suggests, it is a disorder linked to personality and, because of this, for a long time, it was not
recognised or acknowledged as a mental health diagnosis. For the same reason, personality
disorders were considered to be untreatable, as they were not seen as an illness, but rather the
result of an unbalanced personality.
Personality disorders are now recognised within the spectrum of mental health diagnoses; they
are also considered treatable, as research continues to find more effective means of treatment,
and practice bears this out.
Each of us has a unique personality made up of traits that come from both our genetic make-up
and our life experiences and is a vital part of what makes us who we are and how we interact
Someone may be diagnosed as having a personality disorder if their pattern of behaviour, mood,
social interaction, or impulsiveness causes severe disturbance in the individual’s personal and
In general, individuals with personality disorders may have difficulty sustaining close or intimate
relationships. They may experience chronic interpersonal problems, or have difficulties in
establishing a coherent sense of self or identity. Others may perceive them to be impulsive,
irritable, fearful, demanding, hostile, manipulative, or even violent.
Problem alcohol or drug use, mood disorders, certain anxiety or eating disorders, self-harm,
suicidal thoughts or attempts, and sexual problems often accompany personality disorder.
A diagnosis of personality disorder can present difficulties. Mental illness in general can bring
with it, both on the part of the affected individual, and others, a sense of somehow being to
‘blame’ for their condition. A mental health diagnosis may also result in individuals feeling they
‘should’, or can take more responsibility than would be expected, for instance, from someone
given a diagnosis of a physical health condition. This tendency, and the accompanying distress,
resulting from an inability to ‘do’ more, may be even more pronounced with a diagnosis of
While a sense of ‘owning’, accepting and taking responsibility for any illness or condition can
bring positive benefits, it needs to be balanced with the recognition that professional help,
support and treatment may also be necessary.
What causes personality disorders?
The cause or causes of personality disorder are still unclear. However, it is likely to be caused
by a combination of factors that may be different from person to person.
It has been found that people with a personality disorder have often experienced physical