The terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” are often used by the media, in movies, or by people who want to describe someone who has a violent mental illness. They are used casually to suggest “an irresistible drive to commit bizarre violent and sexual crimes” However, by definition, a sociopath is not insane, but instead suffers from a neurobiological illness. In addition, these terms do not refer to all mental illnesses, but apply specifically to illnesses categorized as personality disorders, as defined by psychiatrists.
The American Psychiatric Association organizes their diagnostic manual (DSM) along five axes. Patients’ symptoms may be described only in one axis, or across axes. Axes III, IV, and V describe physical disorders, environmental stress, and general psychological and social functioning, respectively. Axis I describes episodic or symptom disorders. These include schizophrenia, alcoholism, depression, phobias, and personality disorders. Axis II describes disabilities that are assumed to be stable, such as autism and mental retardation.
Personality disorders, an axis I disorder, encompass a wide variety of emotional dysfunctions that cause extreme loss of social functioning. In studying personality disorders, many aspects of the illness must be explored. This paper will focus on ten issues regarding personality disorders. The presentation of the illness will be discussed, as it pertains to adults and to children. The differences found between genders will be discussed. The incidence and prevalence, as estimated by studies, will be noted. The paper will describe the etiology and pathogenesis of the disorder. Expected prognosis will be explained. The research on treatments for adults and children will be noted. The cultural differences that have been documented with personality disorders will be detailed. A self-help book on the subject, as well as existing community resources will be documented. Finally, a description of the current research issues will be given.