How do personality traits affect our need for mental health treatment?

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This cross-sectional study conducted by researchers from VU University in Amsterdam investigated whether specific personality traits (such as neuroticism, conscientiousness and being open to experiences) are associated with an increased use of mental health services.

The background to this study is the fact that there are now many safe and effective treatments available for depression and anxiety, but many people who are ill do not look for help. Is there something in our personalities that makes us more or less likely to think that we need help?

The researchers took data from the Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety, which includes 762 patients recruited from general practices with one or more diagnoses of anxiety and/or depression. Outcomes were measured using the Perceived Need for Care Questionnaire and the NEO-Five Factor Inventory (for personality traits).

Here’s what they found:

  • Patients with high scores for neuroticism and openness to experience were more likely to have a perceived need for care, irrespective of whether or not this need was met
  • Extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness were largely unrelated to perceived need for care

The authors conclude:

Regardless of the severity of anxiety and depression, personality is associated with need for care. This seems to be true for neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness. Associations with these domains were found for various types of treatment. These findings suggest that patients with different levels of personality traits need different treatments.

Seekles WM, Cuijpers P, van de Ven P, Penninx BW, Verhaak PF, Beekman AT, van Straten A. Personality and perceived need for mental health care among primary care patients. J Affect Disord. 2011 Nov 18. [Epub ahead of print] [PubMed abstract]

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