How we view our own suffering depends upon our belief about the suffering of friends and family and the wider world, reveals to a new study.
Research from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick has found that people’s judgements about their depression and anxiety symptoms are often erroneous, leading to incorrect diagnoses of mental health problems.
The finding is a cause of concern especially in case of vulnerable individuals, who, if surrounded by people with mental health problems, may decide not to seek help simply because, compared to those around them, they perceive their suffering to be less severe than it actually is.
On the other hand, those who feel depressed very rarely may have an exaggerated sense of their suffering, because their symptoms appear to be more severe when compared to others.
Researchers conducted two experiments which found that people’s judgments of whether they were depressed or anxious were depended on where they ranked that severity compared with their perception of others’ symptoms.
Lead researcher Karen Melrose from the University of Warwick said, “It is the patient that initiates most GP consultations about depression and anxiety, so that personal decision to see a doctor is a vital factor in determining a diagnosis. Given that fact, our study may explain why there are such high rates of under and over-detection of depression and anxiety.”
“Worryingly, people who could be the most vulnerable to mental health disorders – for example those from certain geographical areas of the country or demographic groups where depression and anxiety are high – could be the very ones who are at highest risk of missed diagnoses.”
The paper, Am I Abnormal? Relative Rank and Social Norm Effects in Judgements of Anxiety and Depression Symptom Severity was published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making.