BY LIZ GREENE
While doing research for my piece on introverts and healthcare, I kept coming across articles alluding to a connection between introversion and depression. Since I knew that introversion is often confused for depression by outsiders, I brushed it off and continued what I was doing. However, after going back and reading through a few of these articles, I was surprised to learn that there really is a strong link between introversion and depression.Though not all introverts are depressed, and not all depressed people are introverts, there is some overlap between the two. It’s a topic that’s not fun to talk about, and with the rise of the “introvert positive” movement, it’s a topic that often gets quietly swept under the rug.But ignoring it creates a heart-breaking situation: Introverts who are depressed end up struggling silently, not getting the help they so desperately need. Knowing more about how depression shows up for us “quiet ones” can help us all be happier, healthier introverts.Let’s take a closer look.
What Science Says
There have been a large number of studies released in the last 20 years highlighting a connection between introverted personality types and depression. Here are just a few:Is introversion a risk factor for suicidal behaviour in depression? (Dr. Alec Roy. 1998)
Introversion and extroversion: Implications for depression and suicidality (Dr. David Janowski, 2001)
Suicide Ideation and Personality Characteristics Among Gifted Adolescents (Dr. Tracy L. Cross, et all, 2006)
Neuroticism, introversion, and major depressive disorder–traits, states, or scars? (Dr. Pekka Jylhä, et all, 2009)
The most cited is Dr. Janowsky’s 2001 study, wherein 64 suicidal and 30 non-suicidal psychiatric inpatients with mood disorder diagnoses were given the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator. It was found that the suicidal patients were significantly more introverted than the non-suicidal patients. In a 2001 article for Current Psychiatry Reports, Dr. Janowsky stated that it’s likely that introversion acts with other core personality variables, such as neuroticism, to influence depression.That may sound like a lot of doom and gloom. But remember, our goal here is to understand the introversion/depression connection, so introverts who are suffering can get the help they need. If that’s you, keep reading. There’s help at the end of this article.
Why Are Introverts More Prone to Depression?
Though there is evidence linking depression and introversion, there’s not a lot of discussion surrounding the cause. Why would a specific personality type be tied to a serious mood disorder? We can speculate as to the reason for this connection, but remember, that’s all this is — an educated guess.
It’s something we’re faced with on a daily basis — western culture expects us to be extroverts. This constant pressure from family, friends, and society itself often makes us feel as if there’s something inherently wrong with who we are. We’re continually being asked to produce on demand, be a team player, and speak up or be run over — all of which prevents us from tapping into our inner power source. We’re left stressed, depleted, and feeling the need to explain and apologize for what works best for us. All of this can take a serious toll on our mental health.
Many introverts are overthinkers, and overthinking combined with social seclusion is a recipe for trouble. Overthinking is often focused on what we perceive to be our shortcomings — the things we think others are judging us for. This particular brand of overthinking can lead to low self-esteem, triggering feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and despair. As a result, we end up trapped in a vicious cycle of angst and hopelessness.Private by nature, we may struggle to reach out to others, especially when we’re overly stressed. However, by not sharing our thoughts and feelings with our family, friends, or colleagues, we may end up exacerbating our social isolation and setting the tone for depression.
Introverts are often forced into uncomfortable or unfamiliar social situations, leaving them overwhelmed, overstimulated, and emotionally drained, which taxes our mental health.Social isolation is another situation introverts may find themselves dealing with. Though many introverts thrive on solitude, it doesn’t mean we don’t also crave the closeness of personal relationships. Unfortunately, the introvert’s independent nature and love of solitude can sometimes lead to social alienation, and an introvert may find themselves alone even when they don’t wish to be. Without someone to unburden ourselves to, we may end up suppressing feelings and intrusive thoughts, and over a period of time, this sustained loneliness can lead to depression.
Help for Introverts Who Are Depressed
The good news is that for most people, depression is treatable. Depression isn’t your fault, and it isn’t forever.Of course, everyone feels blue from time to time. How do you know when it’s time to seek treatment for depression? According to Pete Shalek, founder of Joyable, a company that helps people overcome depression using an online program, you could benefit from help if you:
Consistently feel down or unmotivated, with these feelings lasting for extended periods of time, or
If your feelings negatively impact your life (for example, your relationships or your ability to concentrate and work effectively).
If you answered “yes” to one of the above statements, it’s crucial that you take action. Taking action can be hard when you’re depressed, because just thinking about the things you need to do to feel better, like spending time with a friend or exercising, can seem exhausting and overwhelming. That’s what’s ironic about depression recovery — the things that help the most are often the things that are hardest to do.
The most difficult step is the first step. Look for something you can do right now, like going on a walk or getting up and dancing to your favorite music.
Here are some more ways to cope with depression, from Help Guide:
Plan a one-on-one coffee date with a good friend.
Talk to one person you trust about your feelings.
Do things that make you feel good, like picking up a former hobby or sport you used to enjoy, or planning a trip to your favorite park or museum.
Aim for eight hours of sleep at night. A lack of sleep can exacerbate depression.
Practice relaxation techniques, like meditation or yoga. Or, draw yourself a warm bath and read a good book.
Get moving — exercise is a powerful depression fighter!
Challenge negative thoughts. Be on the lookout for all-or-nothing thinking, jumping to conclusions, or overgeneralizations. (Learn more about this important strategy, and others, here.)
Most important, seek professional help. Depression is one of the top factors that contribute to suicidal behavior. A therapist or an evidence-based online program like Joyable can assist you in coping with depression.
If you or someone you know has had thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741, or seek help from a professional (if you’re in the U.S.). For help in other countries, see the International Association for Suicide Prevention.