Personality Disorders Affect 15% of Americans

Minority Women With Little Education, Low Income at Highest Risk

Aug. 4, 2004 -- Nearly 31 million Americans -- 15% of the population -- have at least one serious personality disorder, a new study shows.

The nationwide report unveils the prevalence of seven mental disorders not often examined, writes researcher Bridget F. Grant, PhD, an epidemiologist with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the NIH.

Her report appears in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

In her study, more than 43,000 adults participated in telephone interviews -- answering questions designed to help interviewers make a diagnosis of personality disorder.

In tallying up the results, Grant found that women were much more commonly affected. In addition, certain characteristics seemed to increase the chance of having a personality disorder:

  • Being Native American or black
  • Being a young adult
  • Having low socioeconomic status
  • Being divorced, separated, widowed, or never married

Personality disorders are more than just having certain personality tendencies. They are actual disorders in which the person's characteristics are inflexible with enduring patterns of behaviors that can lead to significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning, according to the researchers.

The specific findings:

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder traits include obsessive neatness, perfectionism, and worrying. It is the most common personality disorder and affects 8% of adults, some 16 million people, cutting across all gender, income, marital, and regional groups. It is more common in whites than Asians and Hispanics.
  • Paranoid personality disorder entails a generally distrustful view of situations and people, seeing deliberate threats everywhere -- affects 4% of adults, especially women, minorities, young adults between 18 and 29 years old, those with lower incomes, and divorced, widowed, or separated people, and with less than a high school education.
  • Antisocial personality disorder affects 4% of adults -- and is three times more common for men than women, especially young Native Americans with little income or education. People with this disorder have no respect for other people and feel no remorse about effects of their behavior; this person is impulsive, belligerent, irresponsible, aggressive, and violent.
  • Schizoid personality disorder describes an introverted, solitary, emotionally cold person who is fearful of closeness and intimacy. It affects 3% of adults, especially young blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics in the lowest income groups, with no high school diploma.
  • Avoidant personality disorder describes a person with excessive social discomfort, timidity, and fear of criticism. It affects 2% of adults, especially young Native American women in the 30- to 44-year-old age group. People with no high school diploma were three times as likely to have this disorder.
  • Histrionic or borderline personality disorder affects 2% of adults, especially young blacks in lower income groups, with little education. They demand constant attention; they are also self-dramatizing, self-indulgent, demanding, excitable, and vain.
  • Dependent personality disorder describes a submissive person who requires excessive reassurance and advice -- affects 0.5% of adults, primarily young women in lowest income brackets, with the least education.

These disorders infuse one's life with considerable turmoil, often jeopardizing marriages and employment. Even when people get treatment, they often drop out, and begin a downward spiral into drug abuse and crime, writes Grant. She calls for more effective interventions for people suffering from these personality disorders -- and more attention directed toward preventing them.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Grant, B. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, July 2004: vol 65, pp 948-958. National Mental Health Association.
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