Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders, and a few core personality traits can make some individuals more vulnerable. And while there are no personality traits exclusive to depression, certain combinations create a profile of depressed character traits that predict an increased risk of depression. Read on to understand more about three core personality traits—neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness—and how they impact an individual’s risk of developing depression.
Neuroticism is a personality trait defined by negative emotionality and distress, which cause them to interpret adverse situations as more dire. An individual with high neuroticism also experiences emotions such as fear, frustration, and sadness more often, generally viewing the world through a pessimistic lens. This leaves an individual more vulnerable to the development of mental health disorders, and is closely linked with depression.
There are many parallels between neuroticism and depression, which supports their frequent co-occurrence. Withdrawal is a facet of neuroticism that resembles the social isolation and sadness of depression. Rumination and chronic negativity are key aspects of neuroticism that create a dismal outlook on life. Such mental and emotional patterns can lead an individual to experience more stressful life events, making them more prone to depression.
Extraversion is a personality trait that expresses how individuals seek excitement and social engagement and how these interactions impact their emotional energy. It is neither a positive or negative trait, and each end of the spectrum offers different benefits and drawbacks. That said, an individual’s level of extraversion has been shown to play a role in their likelihood of their developing depression.
Extraverts are often perceived as being warm, personable, and energetic. Positive emotionality and sociability are two facets of extraversion connected with lower levels of depression. Extraverts are energized by spending time with others and may feel lonely without regular socialization.
Introverts are seen as more introspective, observant, creative, and deeply tuned into others and themselves. They focus more on a small number of high-quality relationships and have less interest in large social gatherings. This desire for solitude is sometimes misinterpreted as shyness, but these individuals are comfortable with their low interest in socializing and thrive during their alone time.
Very low levels of extraversion are associated with depressive symptoms. An individual with higher extraversion will naturally feel drawn to others, helping them avoid isolation and loneliness. But an introvert tends to turn inward to cope with a low mood or personal difficulties, keeping them from the connection and social support they need.
Conscientiousness involves being mindful, goal-oriented, and managing impulse control. Among the big five personality traits, conscientiousness is one of the two strongest predictors of depression, second only to neuroticism. Low conscientiousness leads to a more disorganized and poorly planned life, creating more stressful life circumstances and higher levels of depression.
High conscientiousness is linked with more life satisfaction, largely due to an individual’s proactive and thoughtful efforts to create positive life circumstances. This approach keeps them healthier, safer, and less stressed, thereby lowering their risk for depression onset.
However, high conscientiousness does have a few disadvantages related to distressing life experiences. A conscientious individual who loses their job may take it more personally, believing it is due to their lack of ability rather than broader business circumstances.
Conscientious individuals are also prone to feelings of guilt—a significant symptom of depression—especially when they struggle in achievement-oriented activities such as work or school. Their motivation to restore a difficult situation often helps them avoid future guilt-inducing problems. Despite these vulnerabilities, high conscientiousness is closely related to positive emotionality and lower levels of depression.
These research findings reveal more about depression, trait combinations, and the potential for interventions.
Each individual develops with a unique mosaic of character traits that define their core personality. And as research reveals more about how personality traits interact with mental health, individuals and clinicians can make more informed decisions about preventing and treating mental health disorders.