Being neurotic is the strongest risk factor for depression and anxiety, research finds.
Neuroticism is a tendency to experience negative emotions like fear, guilt, shame, sadness and anger.
People who are neurotic tend to startle easily and can be nervous even when there is nothing to be nervous about, the study showed.
The good news is that a depressive personality can be changed, contrary to what many people think.
Also, being high in conscientiousness and an extravert together has a protective effect on people who are highly neurotic.
The conclusions come from a study of 132 adolescents who were told they would receive mild electric shocks at specific moments.
The results showed that neurotic people were more nervous even when they knew there was no shock coming.
Professor Michelle Craske, the study’s first author, said:
“…these findings suggest that persons with high neuroticism would respond with appropriate fear to actual threatening events, but with additional unnecessary anxiety to surrounding conditions.
This type of responding may explain why neuroticism contributes to the development of pervasive anxiety.”
Professor Craske explained that her goal is to see what separates depression from anxiety and what unites them:
“Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand; we’re trying to learn what factors place adolescents at risk for the development of anxiety and depression, what is common between anxiety and depression, and what is unique to each.
We chose this age group because 16-to-19 is when anxiety and mood disorders tend to surge in prevalence.”
Many of the participants were already experiencing anxiety and depression before the study started, Professor Craske said:
“We assumed most would not be currently anxious or depressed and we would see who develops disorders over time.
We were surprised to see that more than 20 percent had a current or past anxiety disorder, and 30 percent had a current or past mood disorder at the start of the study.”
The study was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry (Craske et al., 2009).