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Mental Health Now factsheet: personality disorders

What are personality disorders?

A person’s personality is intrinsic to who they are and it shapes how they think, perceive and respond to other people. However, when there is a long-lasting and pervasive impairment in their personality a person might have a personality disorder. Difficulties would be evident in their personal functioning and self-identity, when dealing with other people, and when trying to cope with everyday life. These difficulties can lead to unusual behaviour which can be upsetting or distressing to others. 

There are ten recognised forms of personality disorder in the UK. Approximately 4-15% of adults in the UK have a personality disorder with the most common form being borderline personality disorder. 

Ten types of personality disorder

  • Paranoid personality disorder
  • Schizoid personality disorder
  • Schizotypal personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Borderline/Emotionally unstable personality disorder
  • Histrionic personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder
  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Dependent personality disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive (anankastic) personality disorder

Treatment and recovery

Most people with a personality disorder never come into contact with mental health services, or when they do so, it is in the context of another mental disorder or at a time of crisis, such as after self-harming or breaking the law. Often personality disorder traits diminish with age without treatment. 

However, in some cases the person may experience such severe distress and impairment, that they may need treatment for the personality disorder itself. Treatment can be provided by community and mental health services, or within institutions if the person has a history of offending behaviour. Treatment can include group-based cognitive and behavioural interventions to address problems such as impulsivity, interpersonal difficulties and antisocial behaviour. Other psychological treatments include cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), schema therapy and therapeutic communities. 

Pharmacological (drug) interventions should not routinely be used to treat the personality disorder itself, but could be used for treatment of another mental disorder, such as depression or anxiety. 

Supporting people with personality disorder in the workplace

Individuals with a personality disorder may be finding it difficult to cope with a situation or their emotions, or they may have problems in their relationships with others at work. Talk about how they’re feeling and listen without judgement. Provide support, reassurance and hope that things will improve. Be aware that the nature of personality disorder is that it can lead to negative feelings towards the person with a personality disorder, and try to not let these feelings prevent support being offered. 

Address any crisis first such as self-harm and suicidal thoughts (see suicidal crisis factsheet) which are features associated with some personality disorders. 

Where to find out more