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Abstract

Background The aims of this study were to assess lay people's ability to recognize personality disorders as psychological ‘illnesses’ and to establish their beliefs concerning causes and treatment of each disorder.

Methods Two hundred fourteen participants answered a questionnaire, consisting of three case vignettes describing paranoid, narcissistic and obsessive–compulsive personality disorders, according to DSM-IV-TR, each followed by 20 attitudinal statements concerning aetiology and treatment.

Results Narcissistic personality disorder was the disorder least recognized as a psychological ‘illness’. Overall, psychological causes and treatments were given more prominence than biological ones. Results suggest that personal experience of mental health problems (whether theoretical or practical) seems to improve ‘illness’ recognition.

Conclusion To the extent that personality disorders were recognized as psychological ‘illnesses’, recognition was increased if the personality disorder was related to a similar Axis I disorder. Experience of mental health problems and knowledge of psychology or psychiatry improves ‘illness’ recognition, although not for every personality disorder. Psychological causes were endorsed more strongly than biological causes for all disorders—but again, the extent to which a disorder was thought to have a psychological rather than biological cause varied as a function of the disorder. A similar pattern was observed for treatment preferences. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.