For those not overly familiar with the intricacies of personality disorders, it is very easy to confuse them with the various forms of mental illness, given their close association. In reality, the two are very different, requiring vastly different approaches for diagnosis and treatment.

In this blog, Team Med explores how personality disorders differ from the various forms of mental illness, and what treatments exist to manage its impact.


Mental illness is an umbrella term used to collectively cover various diagnosable conditions affecting people’s behaviour, emotional responses, moods, perception of events, and so forth. These would include common mental illnesses like eating disorders, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Personality disorder, however, is more aligned with thoughts and behavioural patterns that are generally deemed unhealthy, consequently affecting or impeding one’s capabilities of forming relationships and wider social groups.

Classes and Clusters

These definitions may seem pretty similar, and this can be a severe issue during the diagnosis of personality disorders and mental illnesses. Experts in their respective fields have therefore tried to make the distinctions between these two phrases clearer by establishing respective classes and clusters.

Mental Illness has 5 main classes:

  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Mood Disorder
  • Psychotic Disorder/Schizophrenia
  • Eating Disorder
  • Dementia

Personality disorders are segmented into 3 clusters:

  • Cluster A (odd, eccentric)
  • Cluster B (overly emotional, dramatic)
  • Cluster C (fearful, anxious)

Causes and Onset

Like most complex health issues, there are a variety of factors that can bring about personality disorders. When we look at mental illnesses, they are likely caused by a combination of genetics, environmental exposures, and stressors, typically appearing in people at a younger age. Personality disorders, on the other hand, begin to emerge throughout one’s teenage years, and is caused by the interactions with environmental factors, in relation to their innate characteristics, which can be developed through poor upbringing and ineffective social networks.


As opposed to psychiatric medication, which is the treatment of choice for many mental illnesses, personality disorders are usually managed with psychotherapy, also known as ‘talk therapy’. With the consistent assistance of a trained psychiatric professional, you can work through processing and understanding your thoughts, motivations and feelings. Seeking professional assistance is the best step towards creating strategies that can help mitigate the impacts of personality disorders, and building better social networks with the people around you.