A new study suggests that as the definitions of mental disorders expand, people with depression and other common forms of illness receive less support from family and friends.
Officials warn that this lack of emotional and day-to-day support can be problematic.
As a part of the research, author Brea L. Perry studied interviews conducted with 165 individuals with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, and other less severe disorders, who were undergoing mental health treatment for the first time.
She found that those with more socially-accepted and commonplace mental illnesses, such as depression and mild mood disorders, did not receive strong reactions to their conditions from family members, friends, or others with whom they came in contact.
Experts believe that as the diagnoses become common, an individual’s support networks may be less willing to take on caregiver responsibilities. Additionally, friends and families may have difficulty in accepting or excusing them when their behavior deviates from what is considered normal.
Perry wrote, “Perhaps because so many people are diagnosed and subsequently treated successfully, signs of depression do not alarm friends and family members to the same degree as disorders known to severely affect functioning.”
While commonplace mental illnesses such as depression are clearly defined by professionals as legitimate medical conditions, Perry found that the public does not always deem them as justifiable grounds for taking on a “sick” role.
Researchers discovered a paradoxical effect when someone is diagnosed with a severe mental illness that is more outwardly recognizable such as schizophrenia and the manic phase of bipolar disorder.
In these cases, the diagnosis of a severe mental illness often leads to social stigma and a higher amount of rejection and discrimination by acquaintances and strangers, while at the same time, creating a stronger social support system among close friends and family.
The authors conclude that day-to-day emotional and instrumental support is critical for recovery from all severities of mental illness.
The study was released in a recent issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (published by SAGE).
Source: Sage Publications