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A systematic review of personality disorder, race and ethnicity: prevalence, aetiology and treatment

Angela McGilloway1, Ruth E Hall1, Tennyson Lee4 and Kamaldeep S Bhui234*

Author affiliations

1 Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Turner Street, London E1 2AD, UK

2 Centre for Psychiatry, Barts & The London School of Medicine & Dentistry, Old Anatomy Building, Charterhouse Square, London, EC1M 6BQ, UK

3 The Centre for Applied Research and Evaluation International Foundation (Careif), Centre for Psychiatry, Barts & The London School of Medicine & Dentistry, Old Anatomy Building, Charterhouse Square, London, EC1M 6BQ, UK

4 East London Foundation Trust, Trust headquarters, Eastone, 22 Commercial Street, London, E1 6LP, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Psychiatry 2010, 10:33  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-10-33

Published: 11 May 2010



Although psychoses and ethnicity are well researched, the importance of culture, race and ethnicity has been overlooked in Personality Disorders (PD) research. This study aimed to review the published literature on ethnic variations of prevalence, aetiology and treatment of PD.


A systematic review of studies of PD and race, culture and ethnicity including a narrative synthesis of observational data and meta-analyses of prevalence data with tests for heterogeneity.


There were few studies with original data on personality disorder and ethnicity. Studies varied in their classification of ethnic group, and few studies defined a specific type of personality disorder. Overall, meta-analyses revealed significant differences in prevalence between black and white groups (OR 0.476, CIs 0.248 - 0.915, p = 0.026) but no differences between Asian or Hispanic groups compared with white groups. Meta-regression analyses found that heterogeneity was explained by some study characteristics: a lower prevalence of PD was reported among black compared with white patients in UK studies, studies using case-note diagnoses rather than structured diagnostic interviews, studies of borderline PD compared with the other PD, studies in secure and inpatient compared with community settings, and among subjects with co-morbid disorders compared to the rest. The evidence base on aetiology and treatment was small.


There is some evidence of ethnic variations in prevalence of personality disorder but methodological characteristics are likely to account for some of the variation. The findings may indicate neglect of PD diagnosis among ethnic groups, or a true lower prevalence amongst black patients. Further studies are required using more precise cultural and ethnic groups.