Discrimination fears may accompany depression

KING’S COLLEGE LONDON (UK) — Worldwide, more than three-quarters of the people diagnosed with depression say they have experienced some form of discrimination.

For a new study published in The Lancet, an international team of researchers used detailed questionnaires to ask 1,082 people being treated for depression in 35 different countries about their experiences of discrimination.

Over a third (34 percent) of participants reported that they had been avoided or shunned by other people because of their mental health problems.  Anticipated discrimination had prevented over a third (37 percent) of participants from initiating a close personal relationship, and a quarter (25 percent) had not applied for work at some point because they expected that they would be discriminated against.


However, the researchers also found that people who anticipated discrimination did not necessarily find that their experiences confirmed this. Nearly half (47 percent) of participants who reported having anticipated discrimination in finding or keeping a job, and 45 percent who anticipated discrimination in their personal relationships found that they did not actually experience discrimination in these situations.

Almost three quarters (71 pecent) of participants said that they actively wished to conceal their depression from other people, leading to concerns that people with depression may be put off from seeking treatment due to fears of discrimination if they disclose their conditionso that they would not benefit from treatment, and as a result, their condition would be more likely to become chronic.

“Previous work in this area has tended to focus on public attitudes towards stigma based on questions about hypothetical situations, but ours is the first study to investigate the actual experiences of discrimination in a large, global sample of people with depression,” says Graham Thornicroft, head of the Health Services and Population Research (HSPR) department at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London.

“Our findings show that discrimination related to depression is widespread, and almost certainly acts as a barrier to an active social life and having a fair chance to get and keep a job for people with depression.”

In a linked comment, Anthony Jorm of the University of Melbourne highlights the importance of the new study, but adds that, “Further research could provide much needed input into the design of anti-discrimination interventions—such as public education about human rights and the effect of discrimination on the person with depression…”

The report arises from the project Anti Stigma Programme European Network (ASPEN), which has received funding from the European Union in the framework of the Public Health Programme, and the INDIGO study group.

Source: King’s College London