In psychology and psychiatry there is much disagreement on many issues, and the question of a ‘depressive personality’ is one of them. Does a depressive personality exist? There is some evidence to suggest that personality sometimes plays a role in depressive illness. However, there are also scenarios in which personality seems more or less irrelevant.
Just Because You’re Depressed Doesn’t Mean It’s Your Personality
Life throws everyone curved balls, and anyone, of any personality type, can suffer from depression in certain circumstances. The danger of the idea of the depressive personality is that it implies that there is something wrong with an individual’s personality, some flaw in the very essence of who they are. This is clearly not so in most cases of depression, which usually result when individuals become overwhelmed by events that exceed their coping mechanisms, and when the support they need is not available.
Though personality traits usually remain relatively stable throughout life, people’s personalities do shift and change is possible, especially with expert help. Instead of talking about personality, some experts talk about personality ‘styles’: coping strategies and ways of dealing with things that are consistent with their personality type but are not unchangeable. Some people with serious depression may be diagnosed as having a personality disorder, but this idea has also come under fire, for the same reasons. The idea of personality styles allows room for growth, without permanently labelling people as flawed or damaged individuals.
When Personality Is a Real Factor
Psychiatrists do, however, believe that personality is relevant to depression. Studies suggest that some personality types may be more prone to serious depression. There is also a condition called ‘dysthymia’, in which people are permanently mildly depressed, apparently as part of their core being.
In practical terms, personality profiles can sometimes help in diagnosis and allow psychologists to give depressed people the kind of treatment best suited to their personality style.