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Feeling of Social Stigma Makes Depression in MS More Likely

June 28, 2017

We understand the physical symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), but we must recognize the emotional side, too. It is well-known that about half of all MS patients develop depression. Research from the Pennsylvania State University shows that people with MS who feel stigmatized because of their condition are more likely to have depression. Their study was based on information from the semiannual survey of the North American Research Committee on Multiple Sclerosis, which covered 5,413 people with MS. There has been research about how MS patients often experience social stigma, but there’s little about how the stigma affects them. The team states that feeling stigmatized would make the psychological burden of MS even worse.

The team conducted a survey, where they asked patients whether they felt stigmatized and to rate their level of depression. A year later, researchers collected depression ratings again. The team’s analysis showed that a patient’s feeling of stigma predicted depression in both the first year and a year later. It should be noted that the team took into account the demographic and health-behavior factors that could also influence depression. Overall, the team found that the perception of stigma alone contributed to 39% of the factors impacting depression.

Psychological reserve is a term that behavioral scientists have coined for psychological and social resources, or support that a person can draw on when needed. The Penn State team said that when an MS patient has a deep psychological reserve, it can lower the impact that a perception of stigma has on their depression. The team stated that the impact of the stigma can be eased by lots of social support, a sense of belonging, and a sense of independence. This type of research could help shape efforts to target psychosocial health and depression in MS.