Nearly half of all patients wouldn’t tell their doctor if they were suicidal or depressed, new study finds

Nearly half of all patients withhold critical information about their mental health out of fear, embarrassment and judgement, a new study has found. 

The same was true for patients who were victim of sexual assault or domestic violence

The results of the study were derived from two American online surveys from 2015.

Of the 4,500 people surveyed, 47.5% said they wouldn’t disclose information about the aforementioned sensitive topics, both out of fear of judgement and the possible long-term implications of sharing such information. 

Participants in one survey averaged 36 years old, while participants from the second had an average age of 61. Those surveyed reviewed a list of types of medically relevant information and were asked to indicate whether they had ever withheld this information from a clinician.

They were also asked to explain why.

Over 70% of those surveyed said the reason they wouldn’t disclose information about sexual assault, domestic violence, suicidal thoughts or depression was because they were embarrassed or feared being judged or lectured. 

Scientists at University of Utah Health, Middlesex Community College, University of Michigan and University of Iowa collaborated on the study, which was published online on August 14.

The study’s senior author Angela 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 says for primary care providers to help patients to achieve their best health, they need to know what the patient is struggling with. 

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“Patients who withhold they have been sexually assaulted are potentially at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder and sexually-transmitted diseases,” Fagerlin says

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

Fagerlin says understanding how to make patients feel more comfortable with clinicians is key to helping patients address such life-threatening risks. 



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