How we base our perception of our own depression
By Margaret Rogers
A study by the psychology department at the University of Warwick finds that our perception of our own depression tends to be based on how our friends and acquaintances feel.
The researchers found that judging our symptoms in this way leads us to make faulty judgements about our depression and anxiety symptoms which could lead to missed or wrong diagnoses.
As an example of this, the researchers suggest, people who generally find themselves surrounded by others with mental health problems may decide not to get professional help for depression or anxiety because they compare themselves with those around them and see their condition to be less severe than it really is. However, people who are generally in the company of people who rarely feel depressed or anxious may mistakenly believe that their own suffering is not normal because their symptoms seem to be worse in comparison.
The researchers conducted two separate experiments and found that an individual’s perception of their own depression or anxiety was not mostly predicted by the severity of their symptoms, but by how the individual self-ranked themselves compared to other’s symptoms.
The study found that the participants’ understanding and beliefs about depression and anxiety in the general population varied hugely. For example:
- 10% thought that half of the population felt depressed on at least 15 days per month
- 10% thought that they felt this way on two days or fewer per month
- 10% thought that half of the population felt anxious on at least 26 days per month
- 10% thought that they felt this way on seven days or less per month
Lead author, Karen Melrose of the University of Warwick said ‘It is the patient that initiates most GP consultations about depression and anxiety, so that personal decision to see a doctor is a vital factor in determining a diagnosis. Given that fact, our study may explain why there are such high rates of under and over detection of depression and anxiety.’
She added ‘Worryingly, people who could be the most vulnerable to mental health disorders – for example, those from certain geographical areas of the country or demographic groups where depression and anxiety are high – could be the very ones who are at highest risk of missed diagnoses.’
Melrose feels that this research could help professionals better target information campaigns aimed at these groups of people.