When it comes to depression, psychologists know the causes often include a complex interaction of biology, psychology and social factors. But the general public often sees depression as having less complex causes, such as simply genetic or psychological origins, and that may have implications for how society stigmatizes people with the disorder, says Lindsey Monteith, a clinical psychology doctoral student at the University of Houston.
In recognition of her studies in this area, the American Psychological Foundation awarded Monteith the $5,000 Violet and Cyril Franks scholarship. Monteith is looking into whether the way psychologists emphasize the causes of depression will change the way people feel about the disorder and those who have it.
"If we emphasize the biological causes of depression versus the more psychological causes, does that impact how controllable [people] think depression is and how stable they think it is?" she asks.
To answer those questions, Monteith is running experiments in which she randomly assigns college students to one of four conditions: Two groups read information emphasizing either the biological or psychological underpinnings of depression, one reads information emphasizing both sets of information, and a control group reads neither. She then measures participants' attitudes about depression.
Monteith suspects that people who read the biological information will see depression as an uncontrollable disorder, while those who read about its psychological causes will view depression as something people can control. Whatever the results, they could help inform mental health information campaigns, Monteith says. For instance, pharmaceutical campaigns that emphasize the biological causes of depression may inadvertently make the disorder seem less controllable, which could in turn increase fear and stigma.
Monteith hopes her research will help psychologists figure out how to dispel stigma and get more people the treatment they need.
The APF Violet and Cyril Franks scholarship supports graduate-level research on understanding stigma associated with mental illness. More information.