Your personality may affect your vulnerability to mental health problems

Posted on June 3, 2017

Personality refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. Personality traits can be broadly classified into 5 categories - Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism under The Big Five personality inventory. Individuals with different degree of each personality trait will have different behavioural tendencies. For example, people with this a high degree of neuroticism might be more prone to developing mental health problems like anxiety and depression, and many studies have suggested this to be the case.

An important new study in European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience helps to clarify this picture by looking simultaneously at people’s personality, life events and mental health problems as they unfold over time. Findings suggest that some people have a personality profile that predisposes them to mental health problems, to more serious mental health problems when they occur, and even to more adverse life events.

The data come from a cohort of nearly 600 participants in Switzerland, who were first interviewed in 1979 when they were aged 19 to 20 about their mental health, any problems with drugs or alcohol, and their family background. The researchers led by Michael Hengartner at Zurich University then interviewed the same group again about their mental health and any experiences of relationship break-up and/or job loss in 1981, 1988, 1993, 1999 and finally in 2008 (now aged 50 years, 335 of the original sample were still participating). The participants also completed measures of their personality in 1988 when they were aged 29-30 and again in 1993 when aged 34-35: specifically, these questionnaires revealed their levels of aggressiveness (including lack of self-control), extraversion (how cheerful and self-confident) and neuroticism (including their day-to-day emotional instability and propensity to worry).

Even after controlling for family background and education, the researchers found that personality – averaged across the two times it was measured – was strongly related to the likelihood of experiencing mental health problems through the study: for instance, higher neuroticism was associated with increased odds of depression and anxiety and drink or drug problems. Higher extraversion, by contrast, was associated with less risk of mental health problems.

If this idea that some people’s personalities render them more vulnerable (to mental health problems and adverse life events) is borne out by future research, it could allow help and support to be targeted at those likely to be need it most. It also raises the interesting question of whether future mental health problems might be averted by helping youth to develop more resilient personalities.


Category(s):Mental Health in Asia, Personality problems

Source material from The British Psychological Society


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