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October 31, 2012

Does Depression Still Carry a Stigma?

It’s an unfortunate fact that people struggling with depression often put off seeking treatment because they worry about the discrimination they may face by disclosing their condition to others, including fears about job loss, abandonment by loved ones, and social ostracization. But are these types of concerns still warranted — or are long-felt stigmas surrounding mental illness and depression finally starting to fade? Two new surveys try to answer this question.

The first study, a poll published in The Lancet and conducted by researchers from the UK’s King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, asked 1082 people being treated for depression in 35 different countries about their experiences with discrimination.

The results were mixed. Among the survey’s findings, Less than half — 34 percent — of participants reported that they had been avoided or shunned by other people because of their mental health problems. Still, a quarter (25 percent) had not applied for work at some point because they expected that they would be discriminated against, and almost three quarters (71 percent) of participants said they actively tried to conceal their depression from other people.

However, the second survey, a poll of 1,021 American adults released to coincide with National Depression Screening Day, painted a more hopeful picture. Among the key survey results:

– Most participants (72 percent) indicated that no one needs to be ashamed about seeking treatment for the mental health condition.

– Half (53 percent) personally know someone who has been treated for depression.
– Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) say they’d be likely to speak with a health care provider if they thought they were experiencing signs of depression.
– Two-thirds (67 percent) believe depression can be successfully treated most of the time;
And with the U.S. presidential election looming, one last finding may be the most surprising — and most telling when it comes to changing attitudes towards depression. According to survey results, two-thirds (65 percent) say learning a presidential candidate had sought treatment for depression would have no impact on their vote, and one-fifth (20 percent) say it would make them more likely to support that candidate.

“These findings tell us that our efforts to reduce stigma and increase the public’s knowledge of depression through events like National Depression Screening Day are having an effect,” says Douglas G. Jacobs, M.D., associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and founder of Screening for Mental Health, Inc.

Lancet Survey:
U.S. Survey Results:

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