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Personality Disorders - Cluster A

Definition

Personality Disorders describe a wide range of illnesses that have unique symptoms, signs and impacts on a person’s life. They are generally broken down into three groups or “Clusters” (A, B and C), and each cluster has a few personality disorders that fall within it. The differences between each “cluster” are significant, and every person experiences mental health issues a little differently.

It’s important to remember that identifying mental health issues, like Personality Disorders, can be tricky. Most of the time, people don’t neatly into “categories”, “clusters” or “definitions”. Everyone has “personality”, so you may see behaviours and feelings described here that everyone has at times.

Someone with a Cluster A personality disorder may have difficulty relating to other people, or no desire to interact with others at all. They often behave in a way that others find “odd” or “eccentric”.

There are three types of Cluster A Personality Disorders:

  • Paranoid Personality Disorder: Someone experiencing this might find it hard to trust others and suspect that their motives are hurtful.
  • Schizoid Personality Disorder: Someone experiencing this might find it hard to relate to other people and prefer to be alone. They also may not have a wide range of emotional expression.
  • Schizotypal Personality Disorder. Someone experiencing this may feel very uncomfortable in close relationships and have thoughts or behaviours that are “odd” or distorted. 
Causes

Like all mental health issues, Personality Disorders are complicated. A mixture of biological and environmental factors can cause some people to develop a personality disorder.

There is some evidence that suggests genetics may play a role, but environment and life experience also seem to be a factor. People who experience trauma, abuse or have unhealthy relationships as children are at a higher risk of developing a personality disorder. People who have aggressive, anxious or impulsive personalities may also be more likely to develop a personality disorder. 

Signs and Symptoms

Personality disorders are diagnosed when the way a person thinks, feels, or behaves impairs their ability to live a healthy life, or when it causes extreme distress for them or the people around them.

The signs and symptoms of Personality Disorders can be explained by a number of factors or other illnesses, and anyone at some point or another may feel or behave in these ways whether they have a mental health issue or not. Everyone has “personality”, so you may see behaviours and feelings described here that everyone has at times, but it doesn’t mean they have a disorder.

The difference between experiencing these symptoms and having a personality disorder is how extreme the symptoms are, how often they happen, and how much they affect your life or the lives of those around you.

Here are some symptoms of Group A Personality Disorders:

  • A mistrust of others, believing that people are out to hurt or “get” you.
  • A pattern of holding grudges and finding it hard to “let things go” or forgive.
  • A preference to be alone and not have close relationships with friends or family.
  • Feeling and behaving in a way that is “flat” - hard to show or feel a wide range of emotion.
  • Feeling uncomfortable or anxious in close relationships.
  • Having thoughts and perceptions that are “odd” or distorted.

Important: Because there are many types of Personality Disorders, the signs and symptoms vary widely.

Note: Substance use/abuse can commonly occur alongside Personality Disorders, as well as mood, anxiety and eating disorders.

Help

Personality Disorders are treatable. For Personality Disorders or any other mental health concern, if signs or symptoms are interfering with your life in any way, it’s time to seek help. 

For instance, if sleep patterns, eating, relationships, school, work, or enjoyment of life is being affected, it’s a good idea to talk to someone. That someone could be a friend you trust, a teacher, your family doctor, a crisis line, or counsellor.

Because of the nature of Personality Disorders and how much they can affect one’s ability to interact with, trust and/or relate to others, it may be particularly difficult to recognize when help is needed and for a person to take the required steps to seek help.

If it is a friend you are concerned about, they may resist help or not even recognize that they need it. They might need you to make the first step.

As always, if you feel like you or a friend might hurt him/herself or someone else, it’s time to call emergency services. 

Visit the Help Section to find out how to get help for yourself or a friend.

Treatment

The term “Personality Disorder” describes a number of different types of issues. How they are experienced will differ from person to person. Because each case is unique, the treatment will likely be unique for each individual.

In the case of Personality Disorders, getting help may include group or individual counselling or psychotherapy, learning coping strategies and/or ways to have more healthy and productive interactions and relationships with others. Medication may be prescribed to help treat other symptoms or complications of a personality disorder, like Depression, Anxiety or psychotic symptoms.

Because of the nature of personality disorders and how they affect relationships and how one interacts with others, it may take time to find the right mental health professional and treatment strategy.

Family members of someone who has a personality disorder may participate in therapy, support groups or benefit from learning about it and ways to support their loved one at home.

A person living with a personality disorder, like any other person, will benefit from maintaining wellness and having good supports in their life. 

Support

Supporting someone with any type of serious illness can be challenging, but some of the behaviours and symptoms of Personality Disorders can be particularly hard to understand and cope with.

Ways to help and support a friend or loved one who is living with a Personality Disorder:

  • Avoid the temptation to isolate yourself.
  • Practice good self care, and set some boundaries for yourself.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of Personality Disorders so you know what to expect and look for.
  • Encourage professional help for your friend when needed (see Help Section)
  • Remember treatment is a process for Personality Disorders and it takes time.
  • Be a sounding board, and listen carefully to the emotions someone is displaying over their choice of words. Try to really make them feel heard.
  • Ask your friend how else you can help.
  • Provide simple distractions. Doing something simple or relaxing together can help build relationships, trust and create calm.

See the Help Section for more info about helping a friend and self care. 

Resources

The information on this page is a simple overview of a complicated health issue. The content has been taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and CMHA British Columbia. For more in-depth information, please visit these sources or speak to a medical professional.

Ontario – call ConnexOntario to find out where there are mental health supports in your community.

Crisis – in any situation where someone is at risk of hurting themselves or others, call 911 or a local crisis line.

Please see the Help Section for more information and resources. 

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