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.

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.

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.

One study, in particular, that looked at how personality traits influence depression showed how much they do affect not only the development of depression but the outlook too. Specific traits that are linked with depression include neuroticism/negative emotionality, which consists of sadness, moodiness, instability, and anxiety; extraversion/positive emotionality, which is sociability, talkativeness, expressiveness, and excitability; and conscientiousness, which is how thoughtful and organized you are (or aren't).

Do Personality Traits Predict Depression?

The study showed several outcomes, one of which was that factors like genetics and environment also have to do with personality traits influencing depression. Another finding was that the neuroticism/negative emotionality trait accompanied by a depressive personality was particularly predictive of depression developing in the future.

The researchers also found that personality trait risk factors are evident from an early age, which means young children who are at risk could be identified early. The study further showed that "personality traits predict, and may in fact influence, the course and treatment response of depression" (Klein, et al., 2011).

The study concluded by noting that personality traits influencing depression may differ depending on the kind of depressive disorder, but that they do seem to "play an especially important role in early-onset, chronic, and recurrent depressive conditions" (Klein, et al., 2011). 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 a mental health professional.

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Article Sources

  • M.A.M. Peluso, J.P. Hatch, D.C. Glahn, E.S. Monkul, M. Sanches, P. Najt, C.L., Bowden, E.S., Baratt, J.C. Soares. Brief Report: Trait Impulsivity in Patients with Mood Disorders. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2007; 100: 227-331.

  • Daniel N. Klein, Roman Kotov, and Sara J. Bufferd. "Personality and Depression: Explanatory Models and Review of the Evidence ." Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, Vol. 7 (2011).
  • Depression and Suicide in Children and Adolescents. Surgeon General's Health Report.
  • Robert J. Gregory. Psychological Testing: History, Principles, and Applications, 4th Edition. Boston, MA: Pearson Education Group, Inc.; 2004: 583.