An international team of researchers, led by Prof Graham Thornicroft at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, 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 per cent) 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 per cent) from initiating a close personal relationship, and a quarter (25 per cent) 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, with nearly half (47 per cent) of participants who reported having anticipated discrimination in finding or keeping a job, and 45 per cent who anticipated discrimination in their personal relationships, finding that they did not actually experience discrimination in these situations.
Almost three-quarters (71 per cent) 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 condition.
Prof Thornicroft commented: “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. 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.”
The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 18 October 2012, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61379-8.