Depression is a mental health condition which affects millions of people around the world. Depression can be mild or major but typically affects a person’s mood, energy and even self-perception. For many years mental health professionals have sought to remove the stigma attached to mental illness, attempting to present it as a part of overall health not deserving of any more censure than diabetes or cardiovascular disease. But only recently has a study been conducted which sought to capture the presence of stigma from the perspective of the patient.
A British-led international study asked more than 1,000 patients from dozens of countries to describe their exposure to discrimination. The study found that a common feeling expressed by many (34 percent) who live with depression, is a sense of being shunned by others. Most of those who said they felt this way, reported that they felt they were ostracized as a direct result of their depression. In fact, close to 80 percent said they believed they had been discriminated against due to their depression.
The fear of being rejected was also strong among those who are depressed. The expectation that others will respond negatively to them because of their mental health keeps many from even attempting to form close knit relationships. Nearly 40 percent of respondents said that they isolated themselves in order to avoid feeling rejected or discriminated against. This worry could keep them from seeking out needed professional help. Being diagnosed as depressed is a label that 71 percent reported wishing to avoid. Unfortunately, isolation and allowing depression to go untreated tends to make the problem worse.
The good news from the British study is that many of these fears ultimately proved to be unfounded. Based on their answers, researchers found that most depressed patients who went ahead and ‘put themselves out there’ did not wind up encountering the discrimination that they had anticipated. For example, 25 percent of those surveyed said that the expectation of being discriminated against proved de-motivational in terms of seeking employment. However, 47 percent of those who went ahead and looked for or found a job said that they didn’t come up against the discrimination they had anticipated. Another 45 percent reported that although they expected to have difficulty forming attachments because of their depression, their mental health did not actually prove to be a problem in that regard.
The study reveals that depressed patients expect to be stigmatized and that expectation often influences their behavior. The study also demonstrates that the stigma and discrimination they anticipate is not nearly so prevalent as they suppose. The fear of discrimination appears to be greater than actual experience would warrant.