The big five personality traits, perfectionism and their association with mental health among UK students on professional degree programmes

Lewis, E G and Cardwell, J M (2020) The big five personality traits, perfectionism and their association with mental health among UK students on professional degree programmes. BMC Psychology, 8 (1). ISSN 2050-7283

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1186/s40359-020-00423-3

Abstract

Background In view of heightened rates of suicide and evidence of poor mental health among healthcare occupational groups, such as veterinarians, doctors, pharmacists and dentists, there has been increasing focus on the students aiming for careers in these fields. It is often proposed that a high proportion of these students may possess personality traits which render them vulnerable to mental ill-health. Aim To explore the relationship between the big five personality traits, perfectionism and mental health in UK students undertaking undergraduate degrees in veterinary medicine, medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and law. Methods A total of 1744 students studying veterinary medicine, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and law in the UK completed an online questionnaire, which collected data on the big five personality traits (NEO-FFI), perfectionism (Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale), wellbeing (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale), psychological distress (General Health Questionnaire-12), depression (Beck Depression Inventory-II) and suicidal ideation and attempts. Results Veterinary, medical and dentistry students were significantly more agreeable than law students, while veterinary students had the lowest perfectionism scores of the five groups studied. High levels of neuroticism and low conscientiousness were predictive of increased mental ill-health in each of the student populations. Conclusions The study highlights that the prevailing anecdotal view of professional students possessing maladaptive personality traits that negatively impact on their mental health may be misplaced.

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