A study just published in the British Journal of Psychiatry has found that only 23% of the population are without symptoms of personality disorder.
If you’re not familiar with it, personality disorder is a somewhat controversial diagnosis which essentially classifies people who we might otherwise called ‘extremely difficult’ but to the point where they cause themselves significant life problems.
This new survey used the standard diagnostic criteria, but instead of giving people a “you’ve got it or you haven’t” all-or-nothing diagnosis (given when a certain threshold of symptoms are reached) the researchers totalled up the symptoms to make a sliding scale.
The study found that even those who wouldn’t qualify for a diagnosis but still had some symptoms were more likely to have had a history of running away from home, police contacts, homelessness and sexual abuse and were less likely to be employed.
Of course, what the study could be describing is simply that people who have had a rough time come out the worst for wear.
The question is not so much whether this is a high or low figure, but at what point psychiatry and mental health services should offer assistance.
For many years psychiatry has been suffering from ‘mission creep’ where things previously thought to be unhelpful but normal (e.g. low mood after a divorce, shyness) have become classified and promoted as mental illnesses with the accompanying pharmacological treatment.
At what point we decide that something is a mental illness has become one of the central psychological and cultural questions of the 21st century.
Link to summary of study at the British Journal of Psychiatry.