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Stigma Can Be a Cause of Depression in MS Studies

February 14, 2018

The stigma of multiple sclerosis patients has been found to increase a patients’ risk of depression. Studied by Penn State University researchers, they also found that a socially supportive environment, a sense of belonging and a sense of independence can help ease this problem.

Depression is known to be the most common mood problem in those with MS, some MS therapies are also known to drive or worsen a patients’ depression.

Margaret Cadden, a doctoral student in psychology stated, “50 Percent of people with MS will have depression during their lifetime, compared to 17 percent of the general public.”

Cadden led a study that helped identify a social contributor to depression—the stigma of MS.

A previous study found that most people with MS experience some stigma—the feeling of being seen as separate from and less than others due to a personal characteristic or belonging to a particular group. Researchers from Penn State found that those with MS who feel a lot of stigma had also reported more symptoms of depression. In addition to this, they are also likely to be reaching the clinical level of depression, which is a severe form of mental disability.

The study involving a survey of 5,369 MS patients was funded by The Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers and The National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Researchers controlled these findings for gender, the extent of impairment caused by MS, whether patients smoked and their physical activity. Researchers were able to distinguish cause and effect by looking closely at findings for each participant over time. By doing so, they were able to see that stigma was a likely cause of depression in those with MS.

“Very little research on stigma, in general, and chronic illnesses like MS in particular, has examined the consequences of stigma over time,” said Jonathan Cook, senior author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Penn State. “By testing how stigma affects depression longitudinally, we’re better able to separate out cause and effect.”

There are many symptoms of MS that can make patients feel inferior and apart from others, such as movement impairment, speech problems, cognitive difficulties, visual problem, fatigue and pain.

“Research suggests that having a chronic illness can make people feel isolated, separated and judged,” Cadden said. “People living with MS know that they have a disease that’s currently incurable, and that often brings a host of symptoms that may contribute to people becoming stigmatized.”

MS patients can become more connected with family and friends by making sure they can create a stronger bond and gain a stronger sense of independence, ultimately making them less vulnerable to stigma.

Researchers found that those with a greater support network and a sense of belonging were less affected by stigma. They also suggested that stigma may trigger depression in those with conditions like MS that do not stem from a perceived lack of personal responsibility.