People tend to base the severity of their own depression on how depressed their friends and acquaintances feel.
Researchers from the psychology department at the University of Warwick found that individuals make faulty judgments about their depression and anxiety symptoms, possibly leading to missed or false diagnoses.
For example, people who are surrounded by others with mental health problems may choose not to seek out professional help because, compared to those around them, they perceive their suffering to be less severe than it actually is.
Furthermore, people surrounded by others who rarely feel depressed may incorrectly believe that their suffering is abnormal, simply because their symptoms appear to be more severe in comparison to others.
For the study, researchers conducted two experiments and discovered that a person’s judgment of his own depression or anxiety was not mainly predicted by severity of symptoms, but rather by how the person self-ranked himself in comparison with others’ symptoms.
The UK study showed that participants’ beliefs about depression and anxiety in the wider population varied greatly. For example, 10 percent of subjects thought that half of the population felt depressed on at least 15 days a month, and 10 percent thought they felt so on two days or fewer a month.
Ten percent of participants thought that half the population felt anxious on at least 26 days a month, whereas 10 percent thought they felt so on seven days or fewer.
“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,” said lead researcher Karen Melrose from the University of Warwick.
“Given that fact, our study may explain why there are such high rates of under- and over-detection of depression and anxiety.
“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,” she said.
“This research could help health professionals better target information campaigns aimed at these groups,” said Melrose.
Source: University of Warwick