Are Introversion and Depression Linked? The Answer's Complicated

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Generally speaking, introverted people:

  • prefer quiet time alone over socializing with a group
  • spend more time listening to others than sharing personal thoughts
  • keep to the fringes of the crowd in social settings
  • turn to creative or reflective pursuits to relax and recharge

Since people increasingly recognize a tendency to withdraw from others as a common sign of depression, someone who doesn’t know you well might assume these traits mean you have depression, or perhaps social anxiety.

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Well-meaning loved ones might even encourage you to reach out to a professional who can help you “overcome your shyness” or “get better at socializing.”

Some research seems to suggest a possible connection between introversion and depression (more on this later).

Contrary to what some people might suggest, though, this link doesn’t mean you should try to change who you are. Introversion is a personality trait, not something you need to fix or improve.

Are introverts more likely to have depression?

A few studies have found support for some connection between introversion and depression.

Introversion as a contributing factor
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Research from 2001 suggests introversion may play a part in the development of depression in the presence of other factors, including:

  • greater sensitivity to feelings and emotions
  • neuroticism, a personality trait linked to a tendency toward negative or distressing feelings
Depression’s potential impact on extroversion

On the flip side, other research suggests that depression might make people more introverted.

Recovering from depression was associated with higher conscientiousness and extroversion, as well as lower neuroticism.

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After recovery, extroversion and conscientiousness still tended to show up at lower levels (and neuroticism at higher levels) than they did in participants who had never reported depression.

Introversion and suicidal thoughts

Research from 2017 compared 365 people with bipolar disorder and 296 people with major depression to a control group of 315 people.

Findings suggest that people with lower extroversion, particularly those who also had higher levels of neuroticism, had a higher risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Introversion, depression, and other mental health conditions

A 2009 study suggests people with major depression and lower levels of extroversion are more likely to also have social anxiety or a cluster C personality disorder, like:

  • avoidant personality disorder
  • dependent personality disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

What about anxiety?

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Experts have also found some evidence to support a relationship between introversion and anxiety.

Social anxiety and introversion

Research from 2020 explored the connection between social anxiety and personality traits in depth.

  • Cluster 1 contained people with high neuroticism and low extroversion.
  • Cluster 2 contained people with low extraversion and high conscientiousness.
  • Cluster 3 contained with high neuroticism and moderate to high extroversion, openness, and conscientiousness.

The results suggested people from cluster 1 tended to have more severe social anxiety symptoms, but only about a third of participants fit the stereotypical “anxious introvert” profile.

The highest overall levels of social anxiety appeared in cluster 3, the group with moderate to high extroversion, described by the researchers as “anxious extroverts.”

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These findings suggest a complex relationship between personality and mental health symptoms — and that’s before you even begin to consider any external factors.

Life events, personality, and anxiety

A small 2016 study exploring the connection between life events, personality traits, and generalized anxiety disorder suggested that people scoring lower in extraversion also scored higher on measures of anxiety.

Researchers also found that people with anxiety tended to report higher numbers of undesirable or stressful life events, such as family of relationship conflict. The results suggested challenging life events may play a part in the development of anxiety.

Eysenck’s personality theory

Personality researcher Hans Eysenck suggested personality was made up of two main factors: extroversion and neuroticism.

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He theorized that people with low-extroversion, high-neuroticism personalities tended to have greater sensitivity to stress. When facing difficult life events, they had a higher chance of experiencing anxiety and other emotional distress.

Older research even seemed to support this theory. A 1998 study of 466 college students suggested participants with both low extroversion and high neuroticism were more likely to report anxiety and depression after 3 years.

In a study from 2000 attempting to reproduce these findings, researchers considered two different participant samples: a survey of 2,677 people between the ages of 18 and 79 and a study of 441 adults ages 70 and older.

Possible explanations

So, what does all this mean for introverts?

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First, know that a link between introversion and depression doesn’t automatically mean one causes the other.

A single personality trait generally won’t cause depression. In fact, depression and other mental health conditions typically develop in response to a combination of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, and life circumstances.

Here are a few reasons that may help explain the connection between introversion and depression.

Different understandings of introversion

By definition, introversion and extroversion refer to how you get your energy, not specific behaviors.

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Some introverts can present a pretty convincing display of extroversion in social settings. Wanting your supervisor to recognize you as a team player, for example, might mean you make a dedicated effort to socialize at work.

This doesn’t make you less of an introvert, but it does mean you’ll probably feel depleted and somewhat stressed afterward. This forced interaction might eventually contribute to workplace anxiety, other emotional distress, and burnout.

Also consider that avoiding others doesn’t automatically make someone an introvert. Many people experiencing depression do tend to avoid friends and loved ones. But this time alone might not necessarily feel positive or productive.

People don’t understand or respect your needs

Plenty of people assume introverts are shy people who just need to try harder to interact. If you’re an introvert, you’ve likely heard something of the sort.

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Yet, when others insist “joining the crowd” is good for you and push you toward unwelcome interactions, you might end up feeling so miserable that you respond by avoiding social settings even more than before.

This makes it easier to protect your energy, true. But keeping entirely to yourself also makes it difficult to form friendships with people who support your introversion and have an interest in who you really are.

This resulting loneliness, which stems from the need to protect boundaries others don’t respect, can contribute to depression.

You believe you should change yourself

People often link extroverted personality traits with higher chances of professional and relationship success.

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When messages from others seem to imply introversion is a negative trait, you might worry there’s something wrong with you and try to change this part of yourself.

Personality generally isn’t something you can change, though. Forcing yourself into frequent interactions without taking the time you need to rest and recharge your emotional reserves will probably leave you feeling unhappier.

The effort required to maintain a facade of extroversion might also contribute to anxiety and depression.

How to cope as an introvert

If you believe your introversion may be having some kind of an effect on your mental well-being, these strategies can help.

Reserve your energy for people who get you
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Introverts need more time alone, generally speaking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to spend every moment alone.

Cultivating some connections can help prevent loneliness and improve overall well-being.

Yet spending time with one or two people who truly understand you and appreciate your personality may have far more value than pursuing superficial friendships with people who don’t respect your needs for space and quiet contemplation.

Our guide to making friends as an introvert can help.

Find creative ways to express your emotions
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As an introvert, you might find it more difficult to share emotions with others.

Maybe you spend a lot of time reflecting on painful feelings, which can add to your distress. You might even have a habit of burying those feelings instead.

While hiding painful feelings won’t make them go away, opening up to just one person you trust can make a big difference in emotional health.

When talking to others feels challenging or overwhelming, other types of emotional expression can help you navigate and manage distressing thoughts.

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You might, for example, try getting your feelings out through art, journaling, creative writing, or making music.

Seek out interactions that make you comfortable

When you want to build new friendships but feel somewhat uncomfortable with in- person interactions, why not explore other types of communication?

Technology makes it easy to find people with similar interests and get to know them slowly from a distance. Creating rapport and a sense of connection over text or chat can make eventual face-to-face interaction easier.

In short, there are plenty of ways to socialize. Turning to low-key formats, like the internet, boosts your chances of interacting with other introverts who understand exactly where you’re coming from.

Identify specific areas you’d like to change
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While you might not be able to directly change your introverted nature, you can make small changes to better support your introversion and get your needs met at the same time.

Maybe you want to speak up more in meetings at work, but you’re scared of being put on the spot. A possible solution might involve brainstorming a few questions or topics to volunteer during the meeting, so you control the interaction.

Or perhaps last-minute plans and social interactions with no clear end make you anxious, so you mostly turn these invitations down.

Instead of simply saying “No thanks” — which could, over time, lead people to stop issuing invitations — you might explain the problem and offer an alternate solution, like:

  • “I think I’d rather stay in tonight, but I’d love to see you. Can we make plans for another night this week?”
  • “I’d love to hang out tonight. I have time to grab takeout and watch a movie, but then I need to get home to unwind before bed. Does that work for you?”

When to reach out

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While introversion is simply part of your personality, depression is a mental health condition — one that can worsen without treatment.

If depression leads you to spend more and more time alone, loved ones might not notice key signs of depression, so it may take even longer before you consider reaching out.

When you experience persistent feelings of sadness, emotional numbness, lack of motivation, or low mood, connecting with a mental health professional can help.

It’s always a good idea to get support if you experience symptoms that:

  • make day-to-day life and routines more difficult
  • affect your relationships
  • create challenges at school or work
  • show up alongside unexplained physical symptoms, like fatigue, aches and pains, or an upset stomach

A therapist can offer more insight into if you’re experiencing depression. They can also help you identify potential causes and triggers of depression and suggest helpful treatments and coping strategies.

Read more on: depression


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