How Personality Traits Can Influence Depression in Kids

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When it comes to your own child, understanding the differences between a personality trait and a mood state can be a bit confusing, especially if she has a mood disorder like depression. Studies have also shown that there is a relationship between personality traits and depression.

Overview

Here we take a look at the definitions of personality trait, mood state, and depression so you can better understand your child, identify the signs of depression, and get the mental health help they need.

What Is a Personality Trait?

A personality trait is a stable or relatively unchanging characteristic that identifies individual differences in people.

For example, if your child has bipolar disorder, he may have the personality trait of impulsiveness. This is a personality characteristic that impacts his reactions to events. Trait impulsivity does not change much over time or between bipolar (manic and depressive) and normal phases.

Another example is your child being stubborn, loving, and independent. Those are all personality traits that she was born with. While they may change a bit as she develops, they are ultimately traits that make her who she is.

What Is a Mood State?

A mood state is a temporary way of being or feeling that affects our overall well-being and mental health.

For example, if your child has major depressive disorder, he may feel very sad for several weeks at a time. This sad mood is a temporary mood state and not a part of his personality makeup. A sad mood can be improved with treatment.

What Is Depression?

Depression is a complex mood disorder with both biological and social causes connecting the mind and body. The symptoms of depression, which in children can include irritability, anger, defiant anger, declining grades, and physical complaints, are persistent and interfere with daily functioning. Depression is treatable, often with a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

The Relationship of Personality to Depression

Studies show that people with certain personality traits are more susceptible to depression, which potentially means that screening for depression in children could be easier since traits are easy to assess.

A published in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology that looked at how personality traits influence depression showed how much they affect both outlook and the development of depression.

Specific traits that are linked with depression include:

  • Neuroticism/negative emotionality: sadness, moodiness, instability, and anxiety
  • Extraversion/positive emotionality: sociability, talkativeness, expressiveness, and excitability
  • Conscientiousness: how thoughtful and organized you are (or aren't)

The neuroticism/negative emotionality trait accompanied by a depressive personality was particularly predictive of depression developing in the future, according to the researchers.

In fact, a separate study of teenagers published in the Clinical Psychological Science found that teens who score high on the personality trait of neuroticism are also more likely to develop depression as well as anxiety.

Do Personality Traits Predict Depression?

Researchers also found that factors like genetics and environment play a role in personality traits influencing depression. And personality trait risk factors are evident from an early age. So what does this mean? Well, young children who are at risk could be identified early and personality traits may predict and influence the course and treatment response of depression, say researchers.

The study also noted that while personality traits influencing depression may differ depending on the kind of depressive disorder, they "play an especially important role in early-onset, chronic, and recurrent depressive conditions."

Further research needs to be done, particularly on the role personality traits play in other depressive disorders, not just major depression, as well as how this impacts young children.

If You Have Concerns

Researchers and clinicians have developed standardized tests for assessing personality traits and temporary mood states. If you have concerns about your child's personality traits or moods, talk to his pediatrician or mental health professional.

Since most children won't be able to articulate their emotions, it's also helpful for you to learn the symptoms of depression. Not every child who is depressed will experience the same symptoms; it may depend on their personality traits and mood states as well as the severity of their depression. In general, however, warning signs of depression in children fall into four categories.

  • Emotional signs: sadness, loss of pleasure or interest, turmoil, anxiety
  • Cognitive signs: problems concentrating, pessimism, hopelessness, worthlessness
  • Physical complaints: changes in appetite, sleep patterns, headaches, sluggishness
  • Behavioral changes: avoidance, withdrawal, clingy, demanding, restless, self-harm
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