Before a mental disorder takes hold in the subject, a series of indicators usually appear that respond to this situation. It is like the antechamber to the disorder, which is known as the premorbid personality .

In this article we will examine the concept of premorbid personality, see why it is important in the area of mental health, and review how premorbid personality can appear before a mental disorder occurs.

What is the premorbid personality?

This term is used in psychological and psychiatric jargon as a way of referring to the changes and specific signs that subjects may present before suffering a severe mental alteration .

Sudden personality changes, among other specific indicators of the person’s behavior, can be taken into account as indicators of premorbid personality.

These behaviors are variable in nature, depending on the characteristics of the subject’s personality. When a mental disorder begins to develop in a person, several factors have an impact on its progress in a certain way.

For example, within neurosis and psychosis inhabit a large number of underlying mental disorders . Each one presents its individual characteristics and whether one of these disorders becomes established in a subject will depend on his or her environment and personal characteristics.

How does it manifest itself?

Just as not all people are the same, not all mental illnesses are the same. Each one of these pathologies develops differently in the mind of the individuals; it is from these individual and social differences that the behaviors of the premorbid personality originate.

Thus, the premorbid personality does not present a series of common defining characteristics beyond the fact that it is a change in the person’s way of behaving, which tends to produce non-normative behaviour , and which precedes the typical symptoms of a mental disorder already developed. Depending on the type of mental disorder or psychiatric illness, the premorbid personality will be one way or another.

Its importance in mental health

This concept is especially important in the field of mental health because it represents a way of warning of the risk that is approaching for the subject who is presenting these atypical behaviours.

It works as a natural warning system of the organism that warns about possible psychotic or neurotic outbreaks, everything depends on what the situation is in each case. When these behaviours are identified in time, in many cases the subject could be prevented from having the outbreak .

Occasionally we can see as an example the schizoid behaviour of personality and schizotypal disorder, which are usually an advance of an approaching schizophrenic disorder in the subject.

Detecting changes

It is important that both the affected person and the members of his/her closest environment know how to identify these behaviours when they occur, bearing in mind that in this way they can prevent further damage .

At the beginning it will be complicated to adapt to this system, but with a process of induction by some specialist of the behavior and after a time, the subject and his environment will take this situation as something natural and proper of their lives.

As long as the subject has a greater capacity to realize and internalize his reality (capacity of insight) he will be less likely to present episodes or outbreaks of his disorder, since he will know how to identify the signs of his own behavior .

Chronic diseases

A difference must be made between a controllable mental disorder and a chronic one, since in the first case the measures must be to avoid the episode as much as possible, while in the second case measures must be taken with the intention of decreasing the deterioration and providing a higher quality of life to the affected subject . For example, this type of measure should be considered in the case of Alzheimer’s.

The sooner the signs of irregular behaviour characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease are identified in the subject, the more the chances of effective treatment that will prolong his quality of life are increased.

For example, there are longitudinal studies that have shown through their results that patients with some type of dementia, who were identified as having behavioral changes characteristic of premorbid personality symptoms, tend to be more cooperative when the disease progresses in them.

Although it is imminent that they will present the pathology in the future, it has been determined that the importance of detecting the premorbid symptoms with time is significant for the future of the subject and his family environment.

In summary

As a conclusion, it can be said that the premorbid personality is of great importance in terms of prevention and channeling of mental disorders in all their categories , especially those that caused significant changes in the personality of the subjects.

The treatment of a pathology does not necessarily have to begin when it is already established in the subject; the most advisable thing is to recognize the signs of behavioral change and act as soon as possible, without the disease being fully developed.

The benefits will be seen in the medium and long term, all depending on the various personal and social factors of individuals.

Bibliographic references:

  • American Psychiatric Association, (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
  • Rosenbloom M.H., Smith S., Akdal G., Geschwind M.D. (2009). Immunologically mediated dementias. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep (Review) 9 (5): 359-67.