Serious & Chronic Mental Illness

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What are Personality Disorders?

A person’s patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving set them apart and define their personality. According to the American Psychiatric Association, personality disorders involve long-term patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. These patterns differ significantly from cultural and social norms and cause distress.

For most people with personality disorders, these patterns begin by late adolescence or early adulthood, making it challenging to form long-lasting relationships. Without treatment, personality disorders can affect multiple areas of life, including an individual’s:

  • Thoughts about themself or others
  • Ability to emotionally respond
  • Way of relating to others
  • Ability to control their behavior

Types of Personality Disorders

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) outlines the diagnostic criteria for personality disorders. The DSM-5 organizes personality disorders into different clusters, namely:

Cluster A: Odd or eccentric characteristics

  • Paranoid personality disorder: Distrust and suspicion of others, assuming others intend to harm them.
  • Schizoid personality disorder: Apathy and lack of emotion toward other people or relationships.
  • Schizotypal personality disorder: Eccentric or odd beliefs, thoughts, or behaviors.

Cluster B: Dramatic, emotional, or erratic characteristics

  • Antisocial personality disorder: Disregard or disrespect for others. Tendency to lie, act impulsively, and break laws.
  • Borderline personality disorder: Unstable relationships and self-image, intense emotions, and impulsivity.
  • Histrionic personality disorder: Excessive attention-seeking behavior, such as an excessive need for approval.
  • Narcissistic personality disorder: Lack of empathy for others, need for admiration, sense of entitlement, and self-importance.

Cluster C: Anxious or fearful characteristics

  • Avoidant personality disorder: Feelings of extreme shyness, sensitivity to criticism, and inadequacy.
  • Dependent personality disorder: Difficulty being independent, reliance on other people for comfort and care
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder: Excessive need for perfection and control, leading to a cycle of obsessions and compulsions.

Although you may notice some of the characteristics of personality disorders within yourself, this does not necessarily mean that you have a personality disorder.

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Symptoms of Personality Disorders

While symptoms of personality disorders vary depending on the specific disorder, personality disorders share characteristics that distinguish them from other mental health problems. Individuals with personality disorders experience long-term patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving in more than one context—for instance, you might experience challenges both at work and in romantic relationships.

Some common symptoms of personality disorders include:

  • Difficulty establishing or maintaining close relationships
  • Difficulty getting along with other people, including family members and friends
  • Inability to control emotions and/or behavior
  • Difficulty listening to others
  • Regularly in trouble or conflict with others

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, many individuals with personality disorders report one or more other mental disorders, such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and substance use disorders.

What should you do if you have a personality disorder?

If you’re experiencing psychological distress or find it challenging to maintain relationships, it’s essential to reach out for help. The following resources can be helpful to individuals with personality disorders:

Seek professional help. In response to COVID-19, the United States Department for Health and Human Services has taken steps to relax HIPAA regulations, enabling patients to access remote mental health services and online therapy. Working with a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist, or counselor can help you change your thinking patterns, behaviors, and feelings.

Practice self-care. In addition to following your treatment plan, focusing on your physical health and prioritizing healthy coping strategies can help individuals with personality disorders. Physical activity can help manage many of the symptoms of mental illness, such as depression, stress, and anxiety. Additionally, avoiding drugs and alcohol, which can worsen symptoms or interact with medications, can lower your risk for substance abuse.

Helplines. If you need immediate mental health support, contact the National Prevention Suicide Lifeline (800-273-8255) or Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741).

Join a support group. Joining a relevant support group can help you connect with others struggling with a personality disorder or mental illness. If you’re not sure how to get started, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers a wide variety of resources, such as NAMI Faithnet, NAMI Connection, NAMI Family-to-Family, and NAMI Basics.

Stay connected. Relationships with friends and family members can be valuable for your mental health. Friends and family members can be integral to your mental health treatment and can work with your mental health professional to find new ways to provide help and support. If you’re having trouble maintaining relationships with family members, consider working with a family therapist.

What should you look for in a therapist?

Treatment plans for personality disorders often involve therapy to change long-term patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving. While the type of treatment depends on the specific personality disorder, the most common therapeutic approaches for personality disorders include:

  • Psychoanalytic/psychodynamic therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy

Because therapy is often long-term, it’s crucial to find a therapist that you feel comfortable with. The understanding and trust between you and your therapist referred to as your therapeutic relationship, can significantly influence the effectiveness of your treatment.

To find a mental health professional, consider reaching out to a therapist through WithTherapy. WithTherapy’s unique matching service will help you find the right therapist, with consideration of your  personal preferences and requirements. One of the mental health experts on the WithTherapy platform will help you develop healthy strategies to cope with your personality disorder.

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