Beyond Blue information paper: Stigma and discrimination associated with depression and anxiety

Mental depression Mental health Anxiety Australia

Executive Summary

People with depression and anxiety, and their family and friends, experience significant levels of stigma and discrimination. The stigma associated with depression and anxiety is complex – the level, type and experience of stigma and discrimination may be influenced by factors such as the condition itself, the age and gender of the person, culture, and the beliefs and language used to describe and explain mental health conditions. People with depression and anxiety report that the stigma and discrimination they experience may be worse than their mental health condition(s).

The stigma associated with depression and anxiety includes three components – problems of knowledge(ignorance or misinformation), problems of attitude (prejudice), and problems of behaviour(discrimination). Improving one component may not necessarily impact on the other components. A comprehensive response to stigma is therefore needed, to address all three components.

There are different types of stigma associated with depression and anxiety. This includes:

  • personal stigma ‐ a person’s stigmatising attitudes and beliefs about other people (“People with depression should snap out of it.”)
  • perceived stigma ‐ a person’s beliefs about the negative and stigmatising views that other people hold (“Most people believe that a person with depression should snap out of it.”)
  • self‐stigma ‐ the stigmatising views that individuals hold about themselves (“I should be able to snap out of my depression.”)
  • structural stigma ‐ the policies of private and governmental institutions and cultural norms that restrict the opportunities of people with depression and anxiety (“Mental health services and research don’t deserve as much funding as other health problems.”).

There is some evidence that there are improvements in the stigma associated with depression and anxiety. However, recent beyondblue research indicates that it still exists, and it continues to have a significant impact on people’s lives ‐ the greatest impact is on personal relationships and employment

  • Research findings suggest that there are two effective approaches to reduce stigma:
  • Educational approaches – This includes information resources (for example, books, flyers, movies, websites etc) which challenge inaccurate stereotypes and replace them with factual information.
  • Contact approaches – This includes interpersonal contact with people with depression/anxiety.

To achieve real improvements in stigma and discrimination, stigma‐reduction strategies need to be developed and implemented in a collaborative, sustainable and multi‐sectoral way. These strategies should be led by people with depression and anxiety and their family and friends, and be supported by system‐level reform and policies, that influence national attitudes and behaviours.

One of beyondblue’s goals is to reduce people’s experiences of stigma and discrimination. To achieve this, beyondblue is implementing a comprehensive suite of stigma‐reduction strategies, which target different population groups and settings, and are informed by the evidence base on ‘what works’. These strategies will continue to be developed and implemented, in partnership with people with depression and anxiety
and their family and friends, to help reduce stigma and discrimination, and improve the lives of people affected by depression and anxiety.

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