Do Teens Exhibit Anxiety and Depression as Personality Traits?

Research has previously linked personality traits to psychological issues in teens, specifically depression and anxiety. But a new study led by Jason M. Prenoveau of Loyola University in Maryland, examined the stability of such issues as related to personality traits developed by teens during the transitional time in their lives. “People undergo more life-changing roles and are faced with more identity decisions during this span of life than during any other,” said Prenoveau. Because of this, adolescents experience personality changes that influence the relative stability of psychological issues, including depression and anxiety. Prenoveau added, “Also, it is important to understand the longitudinal structure of depression and anxiety during this emerging adulthood because many people first develop anxiety and depressive disorders during this period.”

For the study, Prenoveau and his colleagues evaluated several hundred high school juniors over three years. They measured their levels of depression and anxiety and also assessed their moods and personality traits. They found that after one year, depression appeared to be the least stable trait, with anxiety second and personality traits being the most stable. At year two, depression again remained the least stable of all of the traits, but the personality traits, anxiety and phobia all appeared similar in stability. At year three, anxiety stability had dropped to levels equal to depression, while all other traits remained stable. The researchers said, “Over three years, the percentages of variance explained by the trait component for the anxiety and personality constructs (73–84%) were significantly greater than that explained by the trait component for depression (46%). These findings indicate that symptoms of depression are more episodic in nature, whereas symptoms of anxiety are more similar to personality variables in their expression of stability.” They added, “This is an indication that situational factors, such as life stressors, may play a larger role in determining depression symptoms at a given time than anxiety symptoms.”

Prenoveau, J. M., Craske, M. G., Zinbarg, R. E., Mineka, S., Rose, R. D., & Griffith, J. W. (2011, May 23). Are Anxiety and Depression Just as Stable as Personality During Late Adolescence? Results From a Three-Year Longitudinal Latent Variable Study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0023939

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ruth d

    Ruth d

    September 29th, 2011 at 3:54 PM

    Seems to make sense. I would have surprised to see that depression was a personality trait. Anxiety on the other hand does seem to me like it has more to do with an adolescents personality.

    This is bad news to hear. Personality traits are much more challenging to treat. It’s like trying to change someones bad behavior, it is really difficult if they aren’t interested in changing. I think the same thing goes for anxiety. More research needs to be done on the differences in the optimal ways to treat people with bad personality traits compared to normal treatment.

  • Olivia


    September 29th, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    So this ebbs and flows too. So goes the life of the Ammerican teenager. . . :)

  • eric


    September 29th, 2011 at 11:22 PM

    so during this transitional age if a teen does encounter enough depression that becomes something of a regular for him?because if it enters the realm of behavioral issue then it would stick,right?

    and regarding anxiety-it can be controlled by the environment and support(so is depression).so the parents can speak about the same and lessen the anxiety of their teen.there is just so many things happening during the teen years that I feel parents can be more of a support to a teenager than even to a toddler.

  • JessMc


    September 30th, 2011 at 4:16 AM

    I am not so sure about these being personality traits. I never thik about young kids displaying these behaviors, and you would think that if they were and integrated part of the personality then you would see more of it in kids of a young age. This is something that I have only noticed emerging as kids get a little older, at least school age.

  • AX


    September 30th, 2011 at 2:36 PM

    Anxiety and depression is a part of the human psyche unto an extend.And for those that have excess of either they must have surely developed the habit during their lifetime.It so happens that what we do in our younger days often go on to change things quite drastically.

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