Cases That Test Your Skills

Depressed and awkward: Is it more than that?

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Ms. P, age 21, presents to the clinic with worsening depression. Her diagnoses are treatment-resistant major depressive disorder and schizoid personality disorder. Has she been misdiagnosed?



CASE Treatment-resistant MDD

Ms. P, age 21, presents to the outpatient clinic. She has diagnoses of treatment-resistant major depressive disorder (MDD) and schizoid personality disorder (SPD). Ms. P was diagnosed with MDD 3 years ago after reporting symptoms of prevailing sadness for approximately 8 years, described as feelings of worthlessness, anhedonia, social withdrawal, and decreased hygiene and self-care behaviors, as well as suicidal ideation and self-harm. SPD was diagnosed 1 year earlier based on her “odd” behaviors and disheveled appearance following observation and in collateral with her family. Her odd behaviors are described as spending most of her time alone, preferring solitary activities, and having little contact with people other than her parents.

Ms. P reports that she was previously treated with citalopram, 20 mg/d, bupropion, 150 mg/d, aripiprazole, 3.75 mg/d, topiramate, 100 mg twice daily, and melatonin, 9 mg/d at bedtime, but discontinued follow-up appointments and medications after no significant improvement in symptoms.

The authors’ observations

The term “schizoid” first made its debut in the medical community to describe the prodromal social withdrawal and isolation observed in schizophrenia.1 The use of schizoid to describe a personality type first occurred in DSM-III in 1980.2 SPD is a Cluster A personality disorder that groups personalities characterized by common traits that are “odd” or “eccentric” and may resemble the positive and/or negative symptoms of schizophrenia.3,4 Relatively uncommon in clinical settings, SPD includes individuals who do not desire or enjoy close relationships. Those afflicted with SPD will be described as isolated, aloof, and detached from social relationships with others, even immediate family members. Individuals with SPD may appear indifferent to criticism and praise, and may take pleasure in only a few activities. They may exhibit a general absence of affective range, which contributes to their characterization as flat, blunted, or emotionally vacant. SPD is more commonly diagnosed in males and may be present in childhood and adolescence. These children are typified by solitariness, poor peer relationships, and underachievement in school. SPD impacts 3.1% to 4.9% of the United States population and approximately 1% of community populations.5,6

EVALUATION Persistent depressive symptoms

Ms. P is accompanied by her parents for the examination. She reports a chronic, persistent sad mood, hopelessness, anergia, insomnia, anhedonia, and decreased concentration and appetite. She says she experiences episodes of intense worry, along with tension, restlessness, feelings of being on the edge, irritability, and difficulty relaxing. Socially, she is withdrawn, preferring to stay alone in her room most of the day watching YouTube or trying to write stories. She has 2 friends with whom she does not interact with in person, but rather through digital means. Ms. P has never enjoyed attending school and feels “nervous” when she is around people. She has difficulty expressing her thoughts and often looks to her parents for help. Her parents add that getting Ms. P to attend school was a struggle, which resulted in periods of home schooling throughout high school.

The treating team prescribes citalopram, 10 mg/d, and aripiprazole, 2 mg/d. On subsequent follow-up visits, Ms. P’s depression improves with an increase in citalopram to 40 mg/d. Psychotherapy is added to her treatment plan to help address the persistent social deficits, odd behavior, and anxieties.

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