Is there a link between certain Myers Briggs types and mental illness? This question gets asked a lot, and I wanted to find some answers. While it’s hard to find a lot of empirical evidence one way or the other, I’ve found a lot of information that may give us some possible connections. We’ve talked about the Rationals (NT) Types and mental illness, and the Idealists (NF) types and mental illness – so today we’re going to talk about the Artisans (SP Types).

Disclaimer: It was pretty hard to find any scientific basis for the different types and their tendency to have any kind of mental illness. Mental illness has a lot to do with someone’s environment, upbringing, and brain abnormalities or chemical imbalances. I am linking to case studies and sources at the end of this post that may show some empirical data and correlations between type and mental disorders, but at this point not a lot of clinical research has been done. I’m not a psychologist, and this post is all theory and opinion. Just because you are a certain MBTI type does NOT mean you are going to have one of these mental struggles. If you feel like I’m completely wrong in some way, don’t hesitate to tell me. If you feel like you struggle with any of these issues, I hope you can find some professional help or a good friend to help you along your journey. If you’d like to talk about it, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

ISTPs and Mental Illness

girl on bike

ISTPs are the crafters of the MBTI world. These tactical geniuses are adventurous, excellent at troubleshooting, and highly independent. When it comes to living life, the SP types are usually able to “roll with the punches” better than many other types. They are some of the most optimistic and adaptable types, and usually try to make the best of situations. That said, IT types do seem to be at more of a disadvantage when it comes to certain mental struggles. In An Empirical Investigation of Jung’s Psychological Types and Personality Disorder Features, a case study was performed with 158 male veterans; they found that IT types were more likely to have diagnoses of antisocial and avoidant personality disorders. They also found that IT types were more likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Another study showed that 64% of the tested Vietnam veterans with PTSD had either an ISTP, ISTJ or INTP profile.

The same case study I mentioned above points to evidence that sensors may be more likely to struggle with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, although SJ types were considered the more likely candidates for an OCD diagnosis. The case study also states that the paranoid, passive-aggressive, and depressive personality disorders all produced IT profiles.

In School

At school, ISTPs are often restless and misunderstood. The US education system is geared primarily towards an SJ (Guardian) learning style; and SP types are often misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD because they dislike having to sit still for such long periods of time. ISTPs learn best through hands-on activities and performing tasks – not just bookwork or rote memorization.

Over at Oddly Developed Types, they said this about ISTPS:

“ISTPs were rated by psychologists as one of the three types most likely to have trouble in school. A study found that they were overrepresented in high school programs for at-risk students. In addition, they have some of the lowest college retention rates. ISTPs find it helpful (and indeed prefer) not to be involved with many extracurricular activities during college.

They tend to do average on aptitude tests, but their grades are typically lower than average. The competitive side of school may attract them; for instance, a study of students participating in the Academic Decathlon, a national scholastic competition, found that ST and SP types were overrepresented (though still in the minority). If it were possible to win tests rather than to just pass them, ISTPs would probably receive much better grades.”

ISTPs and Antisocial and Avoidant Personality Disorders

First of all, what is Antisocial Personality Disorder? According to Psychology Today, ASPD “is characterized by a pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others.” Web MD says that people with ASPD do the following:
– Lie, con and exploit others
– Act rashly
– Are angry, vain and aggressive
– Fight or assault other people
– Do not show signs of remorse after hurting someone else
– Fail to meet money, work, or social duties
– Abuse drugs or alcohol

Okay, let’s take a step back. First of all, ISTPs make up 10-11% of the population. Only 2.1% of the US population has this disorder. Research shows that many factors contribute to the likelihood of someone being diagnosed with ASPD, including, but not limited to; genetics, being a victim of child abuse, or growing up with an antisocial or alcoholic parent. Brain defects and injuries are also linked to ASPD. Perhaps an ISTP growing up in a bad environment would be more likely to develop ASPD than an ENFJ growing up in a bad environment, but at this point there’s not a lot of evidence to show for that. All the ISTPs I’ve known (my husband is an ISTP) have a very strong sense of justice – and although they have a tough exterior, they are actually incredibly sensitive and generous. That said, I know if somebody were to hurt one of our kids or do something that violated my ISTP husband’s sense of justice, there would be swift, brutal payback for that person. I really wouldn’t want to get an ISTP angry – but typically they won’t get angry about anything that’s not very serious. They’re pretty laid-back people in general, and prefer to stay away from drama and verbal sparring.

Avoidant Personality Disorder

According to WebMD, Avoidant Personality Disorder is characterized “by feelings of extreme social inhibition, inadequacy, and sensitivity to negative criticism and rejection. Yet the symptoms involve more than simply being shy or socially awkward. Avoidant personality disorder causes significant problems that affect the ability to interact with others and maintain relationships in day-to-day life. About 1% of the population has avoidant personality disorder.”

Many things can contribute to AvPD, and I’m not convinced that ISTPs are at a much higher risk of getting this than other introverts. The case study An Empirical Investigation of Jung’s Psychological Types and Personality Disorder Features does say that IT types are more likely to have AvPD than other types, but there’s not a comprehensive list of how many different types were consulted for the study. I can see where introverts would be more likely to have AvPD, and perhaps introverts with inferior Fe or Fi may struggle with it more. At this point there just isn’t enough evidence to discern why ISTPs would be particularly vulnerable to AvPD.

ISTPs and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

A possible reason why ISTPs may have a higher incidence of PTSD is that they are very drawn to careers in the military. Though they often loathe the structure and rigidity of the military, their tactical prowess and skill with weaponry can often give them a desire for the military life. According to A.L. Hammer, who wrote the Career Report Manual, ISTPS were the only type recommended for the military. Other occupational trends for ISTPs included “Skilled trades”, “Law enforcement”, “Technical fields”, and “Agriculture.” The military is largely made up of ESTJs, ISTJs, and ISTPs – the reason IT types could be more prone to PTSD could possibly be because introverts may fail to have the personal support that an extrovert might have in dealing with the disorder. One of the best ways of healing from PTSD is through talking it over with someone and getting your feelings out of your own head, and IT types are notorious for not wanting to talk over their feelings. In fact, a study of type and areas of stress found that ISTPs are the type least likely to use the coping methods “Talk to someone close” or “Talk to a professional”.

What to do if you struggle with mental illness

Even though it may not be in your nature, the best first step to dealing with a mental illness (or determining if you have one) is to find a professional who can help you. Mental illness is a tough thing to deal with, and trying to navigate your way through it without help is going to be very difficult. Although you may be extremely independent and loathe the idea of sitting and talking to a complete stranger, it is probably the most effective way to get some answers for the things you are struggling with. If you think you might be struggling with stress-related symptoms, you can try to follow some stress-reduction techniques; ISTPs, in general, seem to relieve stress through watching television, getting alone time and space, getting plenty of exercise, or engaging in some light problem-solving like reading a mystery novel or playing Sudoku or crossword puzzles.

ESTPs and Mental Illness

standing on own two feet

ESTPs are called the “doers” of the MBTI world – they are highly independent, motivated, and action-oriented. They are full of passion and energy, and they often make great leaders. When it comes to their mental struggles, I couldn’t find many links between ESTPs and mental illness or personality disorders. The main issue they seem to struggle with the most is being labeled (either accurately or inaccurately) as having ADD or ADHD.

ESTPs and ADD or ADHD

Because ESTPs are dominant Se users, they are more likely than Si or Ni users to be misdiagnosed with ADD or ADHD in school. Se (extraverted sensing) is all about being aware of everything happening in the here and now. Sights, sounds, tastes, and smells; Se is constantly on the lookout for sensory stimuli. Se-dominant types want to work with their hands, to manipulate things, to be active in the immediate environment. ESTPs hate being in a rigidly structured environment, and the rote, monotonous daily life of school is often something they despise.

16 Personalities explains the outlook of ESTPs well:

ESTPs are the likeliest personality type to make a lifestyle of risky behavior. They live in the moment and dive into the action – they are the eye of the storm. People with the ESTP personality type enjoy drama, passion, and pleasure, not for emotional thrills, but because it’s so stimulating to their logical minds. They are forced to make critical decisions based on factual, immediate reality in a process of rapid-fire rational stimulus response.

This makes school and other highly organized environments a challenge for ESTPs. It certainly isn’t because they aren’t smart, and they can do well, but the regimented, lecturing approach of formal education is just so far from the hands-on learning that ESTPs enjoy….”

Dr. A.J. Drenth over at Personality Junkie had this to say about ESTPs and ADD/ADHD diagnoses:

Because of their preference for hands-on activities, ESTPs may underperform in academic settings. This may not be due to a lack of ability per se, but to a lack of Se stimulation. As is true for all SPs, the most concrete of all the personality types, being forced to deal in abstractions for too long can be draining for ESTPs. Their impatience with abstractions may also explain why they are more apt to be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD than some of the other personality types.”

Personality expert David Kiersey, author of Please Understand Me, spoke out vehemently against the over-diagnoses of ADD/ADHD among school children and the widespread use of stimulant narcotics for children who are said to be short on attention. While Kiersey didn’t deny that some ESTP behaviors were problematic and made even the ESTP unhappy, he didn’t believe that scolding them or using Ritalin was the solution. He believed that psychology and a tailored learning environment was the key to bringing out the best in ESTP children. He writes extensively about this in his essay The Great A.D.D. Hoax.

As far as other mental illnesses, I haven’t been able to find any correlation between the ESTP temperament and any mental illness. In fact, when it comes to stress (as stress is often a pathway to mental illness) ESTPs have some of the lowest stress of all the types. Oddly Developed Types says that ESTPS are the type ranked as having “the highest positive affectivity, which is the technical way of saying that they were reeeeeally happy, worry-free, engaged, inspired, and full of enthusiasm.”

ISFPs and Mental Illness

Photo by Daniele Zedda
Photo by Daniele Zedda

ISFPs are considered “the composers” of the MBTI community. They are extremely aware of colors, sounds, and beauty and are deeply in touch with their own feelings and emotions. Like other SP types, ISFPs live “in the moment” and are always on the lookout for new adventures and creative opportunities to partake in.

When it comes to the ISFP and mental illness, there aren’t many links to ISFPs and mental or personality disorders. SP types are usually adaptable and optimistic in nature (although of course there are exceptions), and they try to make the best of their circumstances. However, even with this tendency, ISFPs are among the types that experience the highest stress. A study found that ISFPs were the most stressed out type for areas of “Finances” and “Children”. They were also among the top four most stressed out types for the areas of “Health”, “Caring for aging parents”, and “Other”.

In a study that measured type and burnout rate among workers at a major hospital, it turned out that ISFPs had the highest burnout level when it came to areas of “Emotional exhaustion” and “Depersonalization”. What is depersonalization? This is when someone feels detached from their body and thoughts. It is sometimes what fees like an out-of-body experience. These states can last for a few minutes or several years and are often the result of chronic stress or trauma. You can find out more about it here.

I haven’t been able to find any other information showing a correlation between ISFPs and mental illness.

How ISFPs can Reduce Stress

Over in my post How Each MBTI Type Reacts to Stress (and How to Help) I talked about what types of things stress out the different types; including ISFPs. What helps? For ISFPs getting some time alone to process their feelings is very important. Having their feelings validated is also important – so if you are a friend of an ISFP try to remember this when they come to you with a problem. When under extreme stress, it’s important to remind an ISFP of their strengths, and to beware of trying to reason with them or “fix” the problem. When they’re in a state of stress, ISFPs can become overwhelmed by their inferior function, Extraverted thinking. So handing out more solutions and problem-solvers can only push them further “into the grip” of Te and make them more stressed out.

ESFPs and Mental Illness

taking the leap

ESFPs are the “entertainers” of the MBTI community. These lively, action-oriented types are full of generosity, life, and enthusiasm. ESFPs know how to have a good time – and how to show a good time to others. When it comes to ESFPs and mental illness, there aren’t many correlations that I can find. The only major thing that stood out is that ESFPs were more likely than other types to be diagnosed with ADHD or ADD. Why? Let’s take a look…

ESFPs and ADD/ADHD

ESFPs love to learn by ‘doing’. They are extremely lively and enthusiastic, especially as children. ESFPs live totally in the moment and have a knack for adaptability and improvisation. They can be incredibly smart individuals, but are often stifled in school where they are forced into a rigid, structured learning environment that often is ill-fitted for their action-oriented learning style. Over at Oddly Developed Types, they had this to say about ESFPs in school:

“Since school feels so boring–and pointless–to ESFPs–they escape by chatting with classmates, goofing off, getting up and walking around, and wriggling in their seats.  Keirsey, who was a school psychologist as well as a type practitioner and a WWII fighter pilot, believed that ESFPs tended to be misdiagnosed with ADHD in school.  The MBTI manual also notes that normal ESP behaviors which can be explained by type are misdiagnosed by parents as symptoms of ADHD.  One study found that ADHD-diagnosed students tended to be more E, S, F, and P than their teachers.”

From personal experience as a homeschool mom with an ESFP step-son, I know that they learn best through action and movement. When I taught my step-son what different letter sounds made, I would have him jump from letter to letter across the living room floor repeating the sound each letter made. He also learned through any type of tactile interaction very well; if I could keep him busy doing things with his hands then he would pick up more from each lesson. Like most ESFPs I’ve encountered, my stepson has a really quick, bright mind – but having to sit still for too long at a time would drive him completely crazy. ESFPs thrive the best when they can live in the moment, have opportunities to express their creativity and enthusiasm, and in places where they can be social and active.

In Conclusion

I hope this post is helpful! I know there isn’t a lot of definitive information about MBTI and mental illness, but if this helps even one person understand someone else’s struggle better, then I think it’s worth it. Do you have any thoughts or comments? Let me know! I would love to hear from you.

Sources

An Empirical Investigation of Jung’s Psychological Types and Personality Disorder Features
Oddly Developed Types
Personality Junkie
Please Understand Me by David Kiersey
Was That Really Me? How Everyday Stress Brings Out Our Hidden Personality by Naomi Quenk

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