More than three quarters of patients (79%) with depression have experienced discrimination because of their condition.

Previous studies analyzing the association between depression and discrimination have indicated that discrimination often leads to depression. For example, one particular report found that since minority children often have to deal with discrimination, they are more likely to develop depression.

The current finding, published Online First in The Lancet, came from a team of scientists led by Professor Graham Thornicroft at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry who surveyed 1082 people in 35 different countries who were receiving treatment for their depressive symptoms.

The subjects were asked to answer detailed questions regarding their history of discrimination. Results indicated that:

  • 34% of volunteers had been avoided by other people because of their mental health issues
  • 37% expected discrimination, which stopped them from forming a close relationship with another person
  • 25% did not apply for work at one point because they were anticipating discrimination

When the participants anticipated discrimination, the experts explained, they found that their experiences did not match up to their expectations.

For example, almost half (47%) of the volunteers expected discrimination when they were looking for or trying to keep a job, and 45% anticipated it in their relationships. However, they did not actually encounter discrimination in these circumstances.

Nearly three quarters (71%) of those interviewed did not want other people to know about their depression, so they had been hiding their condition.

These results are unsettling because it raises the concern of how many depressive people are not receiving the treatment they need as a result of fear of being treated differently. If they do not receive medical care, they have a higher chance of developing chronic depression.

A similar result was seen in a previous study on children with disabilities, which found that discrimination is preventing the majority of disabled kids in schools, health and social care from reaching their full potential.

Professor Thornicroft concluded:

“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.”

Dr. Anthony Jorm at the University of Melbourne in Australia, added:

“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; action from health services to help overcome anticipated discrimination as a barrier to help seeking; and the incorporation into treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy of techniques to address anticipated discrimination and symptoms.”

Written by Sarah Glynn