European researchers surveyed 1082 people with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder from 35 countries, including Australia, about their experiences and fear of discrimination.
They found that almost 80% of survey respondents had experienced discrimination in at least one life domain and nearly a third of participants had reported being shunned by people because of their mental health problems.
Family members were the biggest source of discrimination but they were also the biggest source of support. The authors said this depended on the context or personal resources of the individual.
The authors also found that 37% of participants had stopped themselves from initiating a close relationship, a quarter avoided applying for particular jobs and one in five avoided applying for education and training due to the fear of stigma.
However, those who had feared discrimination were often not discriminated against, with 47% of participants who had feared discrimination in looking for or maintaining employment and 45% of those who anticipated discrimination in their personal relationships finding that they did not actually experience discrimination in these situations.
Seventy-one per cent of participants said they wanted to conceal their depression from other people.
“The levels of discrimination in this study might be underestimated because people with very high levels of experienced or anticipated discrimination could have avoided service contact,” the authors wrote.
In an accompanying editorial, Professor Anthony Jorm from the University of Melbourne’s Population Mental Health Group said stigmatising attitudes were often nominated as an important issue of concern by individuals with mental disorders but more research was needed on the prevalence of stigma.
“Evidence from such studies could provide much-needed input into the design of anti-discrimination interventions… and the incorporation into treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy of techniques to address anticipated discrimination and symptoms,” he wrote.
As first appeared in Medical Observer. Source: The Lancet 2012; online 18 Oct