Exposure to Depression Affects Our Antidepressant Attitude


When we participate in a situation through observation, we are experiencing the situation vicariously. Usually there are emotional responses to what we are witnessing. It could be a football game or imagining ourselves climbing Mt. Everest as we read about an expedition.

Vicarious experience gives us information and shapes our perceptions, though the experience is not physically ours.

Knowing someone who has depression and witnessing the struggle is a vicarious experience, one that affects our attitude about the illness and its treatment.

We do not choose this experience and purchase tickets or buy the book. When a friend, family member, or coworker has depression, the experience chooses us because we are there.

Did You Know . . .

  1. If you have had vicarious experiences with depression, you are more likely to accept and adhere to taking antidepressants should you need them. This is true whether you had a family member who was treated for depression or your family has no history of it but you spent time with a depressed friend.
  2. If you have not witnessed people dealing with depression, your attitude about taking an antidepressant, should you ever need one, will tend to be more negative. You will be at higher risk for discontinuing the medication even before it starts to help.

This Is Because . . .

  1. Having a family history of depression is thought to give people a genetic, biophysical perception of the diagnosis. This reduces the stigma that frequently follows depression and implies that it can be treated with medications.
  2. Even without a family history, knowing someone with depression, and vicariously experiencing their journey with it, is also thought to reduce stigma by helping people realize depression is an actual illness, not something to “get over.” People may also witness a friend being helped by taking an antidepressant.

Making This Information Practical

If you are depressed, and have no previous experience with depression, realize that your reluctance to get help or try medication might be owed to a lack of experience with the illness. Consider that your assumptions about depression may be false.

If you have a friend, family member, or patient who struggles with taking antidepressants, consider that person's past experience with depression or ask him or her what the experience has been like. Although taking medication is a personal choice, an individual might need education about depression or will benefit from talking to people who take (or have taken) an antidepressant.

Source: Berkowitz SA, Bell RA, Kravitz RL, Feldman MD (2012) Vicarious Experience Affects Patients' Treatment Preferences for Depression. PLoS ONE 7(2): e31269.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031269


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