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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

‘I am not a depressed person’: How identity conflict affects help-seeking rates for major depressive disorder

Caroline Farmer*, Paul Farrand and Heather O’Mahen

Author Affiliations

Mood Disorders Centre, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK

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BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:164  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-164

Published: 2 October 2012

Abstract

Background

There is a significant treatment gap for patients with depression. A third of sufferers never seek help, and the vast majority of those who do only do so after considerable delay. Little is understood regarding poor help-seeking rates amongst people with depression, with existing research mainly focussed on the impact of barriers to treatment. The current study explored psychological factors affecting help-seeking behaviour in clinically depressed individuals.

Methods

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 current or previously clinically depressed participants who either had or had not sought professional help. Thematic analysis was used to analyse results.

Results

The onset of depressive symptoms created conflict with participants’ identity and personal goals. Delays in seeking help were primarily attributed to the desire to protect identity and goals from the threat of depressive symptoms. Participants used avoidance strategies to reduce the perceived threat of depressive symptoms on identity. These strategies interfered with help-seeking. Help-seeking was only undertaken once participants reached a point of acceptance and began to make concessions in their identity and goals, at which time they reduced their use of avoidance.

Conclusions

Difficulties resolving conflict between identity and depressive symptoms may account for significant delays in seeking help for depression. The results have implications for predicting health behaviour and improving treatment uptake for depression, and may inform existing help-seeking models.

Keywords:
Help-seeking; Depression; Goals; Goal conflict; Identity; Identity conflict; Barriers to treatment