The behavior of family and friends around those who suffer from depression can have detrimental effects to their mental health, according to a report from U.S. researchers.
Negative comments from friends and relatives not only lead to emotional pain, but can also cause those with depression to close up and be unwilling to discuss their illness, even with health care professionals, which could impede treatment.
The study was conducted using audio recordings from 15 focus groups, totaling 116 patients dealing with depression. Researchers noted four message themes that made patients feel labeled, judged, lectured, or rejected.
If patients were referred to as "always so serious" by family and friends, or called "sissy" for discussing their feelings, they felt labeled.
Some patients felt judged when friends and family made comments such as "But you've got so much to be glad for," or "You have this, you have that... Why are you so miserable all the time?"
Feelings of judgment were also present when depression was referred to as an inheritance or genetic predisposition, such as, "You inherited from your dad this chemical imbalance."
Lecturing also had an effect on those with depression—such as when family and friends told them to "Snap out of it" or "Get over it."
Participants also noted that when they attempted to discuss depression with family and friends, they felt shunned, rejected, and disengaged.
"Importantly, such rejection may have inhibited further depression-themed discussion at the time and in the future," say the researchers, who report that several of the participants' relatives said that they did not "believe" in psychologists or "agree" with counselors.
"By serving as one of many potential normative counter-weights, primary care clinicians can help patients interpret and respond to their often unforgiving social environments," said Erik Fernandez y Garcia and colleagues, who authored the report. "[A] clinician's knowledge of patients' sources of positive and negative social support can help enhance positive social influences and mitigate those that are unhelpful."