Personality disorder 


Attitudes to mental health

Four people who've had mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, paranoid schizophrenia and personality disorder, talk about the negative reactions they faced and how they overcame them.

Media last reviewed: 29/08/2013

Next review due: 29/08/2015

How common are the different types of personality disorder?

Mild personality disorders that do not seriously interfere with a person's ability to function socially are common. Severe disorders are rare and affect less than 2% of the population.

In a survey of 8,000 people chosen at random in the UK, the most common personality disorders (PDs) were:

  • obsessive compulsive PD – found in around 2% of people
  • schizoid PD
  • avoidant PD
  • paranoid PD
  • borderline PD 
  • antisocial PD – found in less than 1% of people

Some people with mild to moderate personality disorders seek treatment. People with more severe personality disorders, especially borderline and antisocial PD, may be more likely to come into contact with medical services due to the consequences of their behaviour, even though they are reluctant to seek treatment. This could be because they may not think there is anything wrong with them, or because they fear contact with health professionals.

Personality disorders are conditions in which an individual differs significantly from an average person, in terms of how they think, perceive, feel or relate to others.

Changes in how a person feels and distorted beliefs about other people can lead to odd behaviour, which can be distressing and may upset others.

Common features include:

  • being overwhelmed by negative feelings such as distress, anxiety, worthlessness or anger
  • avoiding other people and feeling empty and emotionally disconnected
  • difficulty managing negative feelings without self-harming (for example, abusing drugs and alcohol, or taking overdoses) or, in rare cases, threatening other people 
  • odd behaviour
  • difficulty maintaining stable and close relationships, especially with partners, children and professional carers 
  • sometimes, periods of losing contact with reality

Symptoms typically get worse with stress.

People with personality disorders often experience other mental health problems, especially depression and substance misuse.

When and why personality disorders occur

Personality disorders typically emerge in adolescence and continue into adulthood.

They may be mild, moderate or severe, and people may have periods of "remission" where they function well.

Personality disorders may be associated with genetic and family factors. Experiences of distress or fear during childhood, such as neglect or abuse, are common.

Types of personality disorder

Several different types of personality disorder are recognised. They have been broadly grouped into one of three clusters  A, B or C  which are summarised below.

Read about the symptoms of personality disorders for a full list of the main types and signs of personality disorders.

Cluster A personality disorders

A person with a cluster A personality disorder tends to have difficulty relating to others and usually shows patterns of behaviour most people would regard as odd and eccentric. Others may describe them as living in a fantasy world of their own.

An example is paranoid personality disorder, where the person is extremely distrustful and suspicious.

Cluster B personality disorders

A person with a cluster B personality disorder struggles to regulate their feelings and often swings between positive and negative views of others. This can lead to patterns of behaviour others describe as dramatic, unpredictable and disturbing.

An example is borderline personality disorder, where the person is emotionally unstable, has impulses to self-harm, and has intense and unstable relationships with others.

Cluster C personality disorders

A person with a cluster C personality disorder struggles with persistent and overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety. They may show patterns of behaviour most people would regard as antisocial and withdrawn.

An example is avoidant personality disorder, where the person appears painfully shy, socially inhibited, feels inadequate and is extremely sensitive to rejection. The person may want to be close to others, but lacks confidence to form a close relationship.

How many people are affected?

Personality disorders are common mental health problems.

In England, it is estimated that around 1 in 20 people has a personality disorder. However, many people have only mild conditions so only need help at times of stress (such as bereavement). Other people with more severe problems may need specialist help for longer periods.


Many people recover from personality disorders over time. Psychological or medical treatment is sometimes helpful; sometimes support is all that is needed. This depends on the severity of the disorder and whether there are ongoing problems.

Some mild to moderate personality disorders improve with psychotherapy.

Different types of psychological therapies have been shown to help people with personality disorders. However, there is no single approach that suits everyone and treatment should be tailored to the individual. Not all talking therapies are effective and it is essential they are delivered by a trained therapist.

Read more information about treating a personality disorder.

Page last reviewed: 21/08/2014

Next review due: 21/08/2016


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 198 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

goldwingfalcon2 said on 12 June 2014

I just wish that i was diagnosed when i had my first breakdown in 1980 which was to be the start of many more at that time. was then thought to be psycotic and was put on some very strong medications. of which none done any thing for my well being at that time. i was then a young person in my late 30s to early 40s i am now in my early 70s. its been such an eye opener to me to just see my symetems it just makes it more understandable. back then in the 80s i was just put in to the local mental hospital more often than not under section of the mental healt act. or put in to a side room with steel doors and a matress and toilet pot. i have now been diagnosed by a doctor at the same Hospital where so many times i was there under section. i now have a nurse come to see me once a week and have the kind of support that i would have benifited from all them years ago. I just would not want any one to have to go through what i had to endure. but unfortunatly the general puplic still do not understand mental health isues. i now got a good life.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

LoveJoyLondon said on 26 October 2013

I had always been diagnosed with depression/anxiety, have had various medications and some tai therapy over the years, non of which got close to dealing with the issues. Eventually I went to a private psychotherapist, who just happened to specialise in BDP. When he first suggested I might be, I was very upset, it wasn't a label I was happy with. Eventually thought, I could see the glove fitted and in an odd way finally felt normal because, there was an explanation for the feelings and behaviour I endured. I would highly encourage anyone to seek out a specialist psychotherapist that really understands the condition. Even if you have to pay yourself outside of NHS. There is a way through it and you really won't fix it on your own or with well meaning medication from a GP. It's very complicated and again, most councillors and therapists don't really get it, you need a specialist. Stay strong and know there is a solution.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable