A study of over 1,300 12 to 17 year-olds by the Centre for Mental Health Research (CMHR) at ANU found that mental illness does carry a stigma amongst adolescents, but that teenagers overestimate its extent.
The study differentiated between ‘personal depression stigma’, an individual’s beliefs about depression, and ‘perceived depression stigma’, or an individual’s perception of what other people think and feel about depression.
Lead researcher, Dr Alison Calear, said that identifying the levels of personal and perceived depression stigma in Australian adolescents is extremely important.
“Young people do not seek help for depression because of fear of negative attitudes in the wider community, especially from their peers,” said Dr Calear.
“Stigmatising attitudes and beliefs towards depression are not uncommon and can lead to feelings of fear, avoidance, bias, anger or distrust towards individuals with the disorder.
“Greater understanding of the development of stigmatising attitudes and beliefs can help inform new strategies and techniques to reduce stigma in the community and ultimately increase help-seeking behaviour,” she said.
Another key finding in the study was that teenagers considered other people’s depression stigma as significantly higher than their own.
“Most young people do not believe that mental health problems arise from a ‘weakness of character’,” said Dr Calear. “However teenagers are inclined to think that others their age would believe this to be the case.
“Because teenagers overestimate the extent of negative views surrounding depression publicising the actual levels of personal depression stigma will help reduce perceived stigma.
“Anti-stigma campaigns and interventions aimed at challenging stereotypes and increasing education about the nature of mental illness would help young people,” she added.
Other key findings in the study were that males were more likely to be stigmatising than girls, younger adolescents had more stigmatising views than older ones, and young people were more likely to think others would have stigmatising beliefs if they themselves had a parent who experienced depression.
This research has been released as part of Mental Health Week. Running from 10-16 October 2010, Mental Health Week aims to educate and engage the wider community about mental health.
For interviews: Dr Alison Calear – 02 6125 8406
For media assistance: James Giggacher, ANU Media – 02 6125 7988 / 0416 249 241