Aims: The stigma of mental illness has often been considered a potential cause for reluctant willingness to seek help for mental problems, but there is little evidence on this issue. We examine two aspects of stigma related to seeing a psychiatrist and their association with help-seeking intentions for depression: anticipated discrimination by others when seeking help and desire for social distance from those seeking help.
Methods: Representative population survey in Germany 2007 (n = 2,303), containing a depression vignette with a question on readiness to seek psychiatric care for this problem, a focus group developed scale anticipated discrimination when seeing a psychiatrist (ADSP), and a scale on desire for social distance from someone seeing a psychiatrist (SDSP). We further elicited previous contact to psychiatric treatment, depressive symptoms, and socio-demographic data.
Results: Both scales had good internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha ADSP 0.87, SDSP 0.81). Exploratory factor analysis of all items revealed a distinct factor representing the social distance scale and three factors "anticipated discrimination", "anticipated job problems" and "anticipated shame" derived from the ADSP scale. In both the general population and in those with current depressive syndrome, personal desire for social distance significantly decreased willingness to seek psychiatric help, but anticipated discrimination by others did not. Other factors related to likely help-seeking were female gender and previous contact to psychiatric treatment or to psychotherapy.
Conclusion: Contrary to expectations, anticipated discrimination from others was unrelated to help-seeking intentions, while personal discriminatory attitudes seem to hinder help-seeking. Our findings point to self-stigmatization as an important mechanism decreasing the willingness to seek psychiatric help.