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Histrionic Personality Disorder Leads to Attention-Seeking Behavior

personality disorders, depression, mental health

According to Fox News, lawyers for Jerry Sandusky have offered to the jury that the former assistant Penn State football coach suffers from histrionic personality disorder, which explains certain behavioral attributes he displayed toward his players. What is this psychiatric condition?

PubMed Health, a library of medical terms published by the US National Library of Medicine, explains that histrionic personality disorder (HPD) is a condition in which people act in a very emotional and dramatic way that draws attention to themselves. The cause of the disorder is unknown, but genetics and early childhood experiences are thought to contribute. It is more often diagnosed in women than men, but this may be because of the stereotype that holds that it is less socially acceptable for a woman to be forward – particularly in a sexual situation.

Patients with HPD may look and act overly seductive, perhaps in an effort to seek approval or reassurance or in an effort to be manipulative. The disorder is characterized by a need to be the center of attention and a tendency to overreact with public displays of emotion. Relationships are forged in order to “act out” and artificially feel the experience of being in a romance. In fact, those with the disorder often believe that their relationships are more intimate than they actually are.

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Obviously, histrionic personality disorder can be dangerous. It can cause a person to place themselves in risky situations, such as a greater risk for sexually transmitted diseases or substance abuse. It could also cause the loss of personal relationships and jobs.

Psychotherapy is the treatment of choice for histrionic personality disorder with the goal of treatment to help the individual uncover the motivations and fears associated with his or her thoughts and behavior and to help the patient learn to relate to others in a more positive way. Medication can be used to treat co-existing conditions such as depression and anxiety.

About nine percent of US adults suffer from a personality disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This group of mental health conditions includes borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder and other illnesses in addition to HPD.

Resources: National Institutes of Health, Cleveland Clinic, WebMD