Personality and risk for serious mental illness

Early Interv Psychiatry. 2021 Feb;15(1):133-139. doi: 10.1111/eip.12921. Epub 2020 Jan 7.


Aim: Certain personality traits may be related to an increased risk of developing a severe mental illness (SMI). This study examined differences in personality characteristics in a sample of youth at-risk of SMI across different clinical stages compared to healthy controls (HCs).

Method: Personality characteristics were assessed with the NEO-Five-Factor Inventory-3 for 41 non-help seeking asymptomatic youth with risk factors for SMI (Stage 0), 52 youth with early mood and anxiety symptoms and distress (Stage 1a), 108 youth with an attenuated psychiatric syndrome (Stage 1b), and 42 HCs.

Results: Symptomatic participants scored significantly higher in neuroticism, and lower in extraversion, and conscientiousness compared to non-symptomatic participants. Compared to published norms, symptomatic participants had ratings of extraversion and conscientiousness in the low range and those with attenuated psychiatric syndromes scored high on neuroticism.

Conclusion: The observed personality profiles of the symptomatic stages were similar to reported profiles for discrete disorders. Early identification of this profile could aid identification of those at risk of SMI.

Keywords: clinical staging; personality traits; psychiatric syndromes; serious mental illness; transdiagnostic; youth mental health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Neuroticism
  • Personality
  • Personality Disorders
  • Personality Inventory