by Jessica Galbraith
Personality disorders are widely misunderstood by the general public. Although an estimated 10% of people have some type of personality disorder (Mental Health Foundation), the negative stigma that is attached to them makes diagnosing and follow-up treatment difficult. There are ten major types of personality disorders, which cover a wide range of personality spectrum.
Getting diagnosed can be a challenge in itself, and usually includes psychological testing by a registered psychologist or psychiatrist, extensive interviews, and meeting strict criteria specified by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Let us explore what exactly constitutes a personality disorder, the diagnostic process, and the treatment options available to those who have been diagnosed.
Getting diagnosed with a personality disorder can be scary, but also brings relief.
What is a personality disorder?
Each of us has our own unique personality which determines how we behave, process, and feel. We each react to situations differently, from social engagements to trauma. As we go through life, we learn to cope with these experiences. For someone with a personality disorder, this becomes much more difficult. They may feel isolated, misunderstood, and have a generally hard time in every aspect of life. The illness affects their relationships and how they process their feelings.
What types of personality disorders are there?
There are ten officially recognized personality disorders, which are categorized into three groups.
- Suspicious Disorders: paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and schizotypal personality disorder.
- Emotional and Impulsive Disorders: anti-social personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder
- Anxious Disorders: avoidant personality disorder, dependent personality disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder
Depression and anxiety are often present with a personality disorder, however the severity can range from mild to unmanageable. In addition, many sufferers deal with issues such as self-harm, eating disorders, panic attacks, and substance abuse.
90% of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable personality disorder.
Diagnosing and Treatment
Getting diagnosed is often the biggest issue in mental health. Most people don’t seek help until they are forced to by family or friends, or until their illness escalates into a serious situation. Once a healthcare professional is able to assess what the person is dealing with, they will check if they meet enough criteria to be officially diagnosed with a disorder. A large majority of people who suffer from a mental health disorder, meet the criteria for two or even three others. There is usually multiple interviews to determine if the issues are constant or only related to a recent life changing event such as a divorce or loss. Once it has been established that they are dealing with a personality disorder, a treatment plan is devised. For many years, the general consensus was that there was no cure for mental illness. This is changing rapidly however, as research and mental illness education is becoming more accepted and prevalent. Those who have been diagnosed with a personality disorder, more often than not, face a lifetime struggle trying to find a balance through medication and therapy. The goal is usually to manage the disorder as much as possible rather than fix it. Medication can help side issues such as anxiety and depression, and psychotherapy is effective in addressing feelings and concerns as they arise.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths out there on mental illness. One of the most common is that personality disorders are not treatable. While treatment is never expected to ‘fix’ the person, it does make life manageable; many people live normal lives with families, jobs, and a functional day-to-day. Another common myth is that mental illness isn’t a real condition. This of course, just isn’t the case. Mental illness is as real as any physical illness and has been linked to genetics and other neurological factors. Mental illness is also commonly believed to be a weakness in a person, and that it is something they should be able to snap out of. These types of misconceptions do tremendous harm to those who suffer with personality disorders. It can deter them in seeking help and creates feelings of shame.
The misconceptions about mental illness are immense, but education initiatives are slowly making their mark. As the general public becomes more informed, hopefully the myths and stigmas attached to mental illness will fade. There is still very limited research on the long-term benefits of various treatment options, but more and more research is being done. The future for those who suffer with mental illness has never looked better; but there is still a long way to go.
Image Credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mytudut/5180391961 and http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/3685379062/