Does major depression result in lasting personality change?

Am J Psychiatry. 1996 Nov;153(11):1404-10. doi: 10.1176/ajp.153.11.1404.


Objective: Individuals with a history of depression are characterized by high levels of certain personality traits, particularly neuroticism, introversion, and interpersonal dependency. The authors examined the "scar hypothesis," i.e., the possibility that episodes of major depression result in lasting personality changes that persist beyond recovery from the depression.

Method: A large sample of first-degree relatives, spouses, and comparison subjects ascertained in connection with the proband sample from the National Institute of Mental Health Collaborative Program on the Psychobiology of Depression were assessed at two points in time separated by an interval of 6 years. Subjects with a prospectively observed first episode of major depression during the interval were compared with subjects remaining well in terms of change from time 1 to time 2 in self-reported personality traits. All subjects studied were well (had no mental disorders) at the time of both assessments.

Results: There was no evidence of negative change from premorbid to postmorbid assessment in any of the personality traits for subjects with a prospectively observed first episode of major depression during the interval. The results suggested a possible association of number and length of episodes with increased levels of emotional reliance and introversion, respectively.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that self-reported personality traits do not change after a typical episode of major depression. Future studies are needed to determine whether such change occurs following more severe, chronic, or recurrent episodes of depression.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dependency, Psychological
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Introversion, Psychological
  • Male
  • Neurotic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Personality Assessment / statistics & numerical data
  • Personality Inventory / statistics & numerical data
  • Personality*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Regression Analysis
  • Severity of Illness Index