Anxious depression has received a growing amount of attention, as a specific kind of depression that is in part defined through such anxiety-related symptoms, as irritability and restlessness. This subtype of major depression has raised questions over its correlation to different factors. Specifically, researchers are looking to find out whether anxious depression is associated with different personality traits, and in what ways might anxious depression and one’s personality influence one another.
Read on to find out more on the subject.
The American Psychiatric Disorder (APA) defines major depressive disorder—and indeed all mental health disorders—by listing the most common symptoms associated with it. As such, major depressive disorder (commonly known as depression) is diagnosed if a patient meets a certain number of its stated symptoms, such as severely low mood, hopelessness, trouble concentrating, or irritability.
If that last symptom rings a bell, it is because irritability is actually also a symptom of many anxiety-based conditions. As a result, certain patients could be diagnosed with depression while also exhibiting a subthreshold level of anxiety. Such a case would therefore be considered a case of anxious depression.
The APA defines personality traits as relatively stable, internal attributes that can be surmised from one’s actions, attitudes, and feelings. An individual who tends to argue with others might have a more confrontational personality, while someone who usually avoids conflict and self-aggrandizing behavior could be considered rather meek.
Five personality trait domains are considered by many researchers to be both succinct and encompassing when grouping together the different personality traits that have already been identified. Known as the “top five” or OCEAN, these five domains have been heavily researched, with repeated results finding them to aptly describe various types of personality. They are:
Depression as a whole has been repeatedly shown to be associated with a number of risk factors, including genetics, neurological development, neuroticism, and gender (appearing 1.5-3 times more among women). Another aspect to have been linked to depression is experiencing adverse, destabilizing life events.
The association between adverse events and depression has been well-established, with many studies making the case for causality, finding that such an event had preceded the appearance of depression in the patient’s life.
That said, depression has also been shown to occur first, thereby predicting the occurrence of a negative life event. Together, these findings suggest two different explanations:
Adverse life events have also been found to be related to anxiety, with the event itself preceding the appearance of an anxiety disorder.
Since neuroticism is a personality trait defined through the individual’s approach toward the stressors and adversity in their life, it is itself related to adverse life events.
The combined effect of anxious depression, adverse events and neuroticism were thereby studied, in an attempt to understand how one’s personality might relate to the experience they go through, and to the development of anxious depression.
A 2008 study published in Psychological Medicine attempted to link these three factors of anxious depression, adverse life events and neuroticism to one another. It found that the severity level of anxious depression, and to a lesser degree neuroticism, increased after being exposed to a difficult, stress-inducing life experience. On the other hand, the very existence of both anxious depression and neuroticism was found to predict the occurrence of an adverse life event later on.
The results solidified the likelihood of a reciprocal causation relationship between adverse life events and anxious depression, as well as between adverse life events and neuroticism.
This correlation was shown to be especially strong when the relevant life event was an illness or injury to ones self, or in cases of a divorce or break-up.
An additional, yet not entirely surprising, finding of the study was that women scored higher than men on both anxious depression and neuroticism. This echoes the rather universally agreed finding that women are more likely than men to develop major depression, in general.
Finally, the study confirmed that genes carry an influence over both neuroticism and life events. This suggests particular genes inﬂuence personality traits associated with depression. This hypothesis was later confirmed for neuroticism, openness to experience and extraversion.