Alexithymia is when a person has difficulty identifying and expressing emotions. It is not a mental health disorder.
People with alexithymia may have problems maintaining relationships and taking part in social situations. They may have a co-occurring mental health condition, such as depression, or no diagnosable mental health conditions. Alexithymia also has links with autism.
Up to 13% of the population experience alexithymia, according to some research. It is more common in males than females, with one study among a prison population in China indicating that over 30% of the prisoners experienced it.
Researchers describe alexithymia as a construct relating to difficulty experiencing, identifying, and expressing emotions. It is not a clinical diagnosis, and mental health professionals do not consider it a disorder, although it may occur alongside some mental health conditions.
Peter Sifneos, a psychiatrist and professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, first described alexithymia in the early 1970s. The word comes from Greek: ‘a’ meaning lack, ‘lexis’ meaning word, and ‘thymos’ meaning emotion overall, it means having a lack of words for emotions.