Nearly half of all patients won’t tell their doctor if they’re depressed or suicidal

People aren’t talking to their doctors about their mental health (Picture: Phébe Lou Morson

A new study has found that nearly half of all patients wouldn’t tell their doctor if they were depressed or suicidal.

The same was true for those who had suffered sexual or domestic abuse.

Patients who fear embarrassment, judgement or any other repercussions withhold the information which might be crucial to their treatment.

Researchers from the University of Utah Health, Middlesex Community College, University of Michigan and University of Iowa found that up to 47.5% of patients do not tell this critical information to care providers.

Senior author Dr Angela Fagerlin said: ‘For primary care providers to help patients to achieve their best health, they need to know what the patient is struggling with.

‘For example patients who withhold they have been sexually assaulted are potentially at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder and sexually-transmitted diseases.

‘These are numerous ways providers can help patients with such as getting resources, therapy and treatment.’

Patients fear embarrassment and judgement (Picture: Ella Byworth for

The study, published online in JAMA Network Open, also concluded that if the patient was young or a woman they were more likely to keep quiet.

Dr Fagerlin is chair of the department of Population Health Sciences at University of Utah Health and an investigator with the VA Salt Lake City Health System’s Informatics Decision-Enhancement and Analytic Sciences (IDEAS) Centre for innovation.

She added: ‘Understanding how to make patients feel more comfortable with clinicians is key to helping patients address such life-threatening risks.’

The team looked at responses from over 4,500 people in two national online surveys from 2015.

Participants in one survey averaged 36 years old, while participants from the second had a median age of 61.

They reviewed a list of types of medically relevant information and asked to indicate whether they had ever withheld this information from a clinician. They were also asked to recall why.

The surveys show that 40% to 47.5% of participants chose not to tell their provider that they had experienced at least one of the four threats.

Over 70% said the reason why was embarrassment or fear of being judged or lectured.

What compounds this issue is that multiple studies in recent years have highlighted how health care providers downplay or fail to take seriously women’s medical complaints.

The next step may be contacting patients as they leave an appointment with their provider.

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