People with multiple sclerosis (MS) who feel stigmatized because of their condition are more likely to have depression, research presented at the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers Annual Meeting showed.
The Pennsylvania State University research team said the impact of the stigma can be eased by lots of social support, a sense of belonging, and a sense of independence.
Their study was based on information from the semiannual survey of the North American Research Committee on Multiple Sclerosis, which covered 5,413 people with MS. The presentation was titled “The Contribution of Stigma to Depression Symptoms and Depression Status Among Individuals Living with Multiple Sclerosis.” The New Orleans conference started May 24 and ends May 27.
Although earlier studies have concluded that people with MS often experience social stigma, there has been little research on how the stigma affects MS patients. Meanwhile, it is well-known that about half of all MS patients develop depression.
The Penn State team posited that feeling stigmatized would make the psychological burden of MS even worse.
In the survey, patients were asked whether they felt stigmatized and to rate their level of depression. After a year, researchers collected depression ratings again.
When taking into account demographic and health-behavior factors that could also influence depression, the team’s analysis showed that a patient’s feeling of stigma predicted depression in both the first year and a year later. The impact that a perception of stigma had on depression a year later was significant even when researchers adjusted the analysis for levels of depression at the beginning of the study.
The team found that the perception of stigma alone contributed to 39 percent of the factors impacting depression. To make sure their analysis was valid, the researchers used a more stringent type of analysis as well. It divided patients into two groups — depressed, and not depressed. The second analysis also linked the perception of stigma to depression.
Psychosocial reserve is a term that behavioral scientists have coined for psychological and social resources or support that a person can draw on when needed. The Penn State researchers said that when a person with MS has a deep psychosocial reserve, it can lower the impact that a perception of stigma has on their depression. The team said psychosocial reserve included level of social support, a person’s sense of belonging, and a person’s capacity to act independently and make free choices.
This type of research could help shape efforts to target psychosocial health and depression in MS, the team said.