"That person is too vulnerable, so she got depression.”
"You are pretending to be pitiful to gain sympathy!”
Except for coping with depressive and physical symptoms (e.g., pain), patients with depression always have to face stigmatization due to mental illness. Stigmatization not only brings psychological distress and negative emotion but also affects their physical perception.
Previous studies showed that mental illness stigma is associated with depressive symptoms. Pain is a crucial physical symptom of depression accompanied by emotional disorders. However, how stigmatization would directly affect depressed patients’ physical symptoms remains unclear. Examining the effect of stigmatization on physical pain would be a benefit for understanding the substantial impact on the overall symptoms of depression.
The research team led by Dr. KONG Yazhuo recently conducted two studies to examine whether stigmatized experiences due to depression would affect patients’ self-reported pain assessment (Study 1) and the perception of heat-induced pain (Study 2), using the event reflection task (i.e., writing their past experiences in detail).
After recalling their experience of being stigmatized, depressive patients reported higher pain catastrophizing and performed increased pain perception for noxious stimuli, compared to those who had no relevant experience.
Figure 1. The experimental setup (left panel), the effect of stigmatization on self-reported pain (right-top panel), and the perception of evoked pain (right-down panel) . Image by Dr. ZHANG Ming.
The findings highlight the adverse effect of stigmatization on physical symptoms of depression. It contributes insights for improving clinical treatment by minimizing stigmatization to provide patients healthy environment to get help.
The study entitled “Stigmatized experience is associated with exacerbated pain perception in depressed patients,” supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, has been published online on Jan. 23, 2023 in Behaviour Research and Therapy.
Institute of Psychology Chinese Academy of Sciences
Beijing 100101, China.