People who have experienced emotional distress in their lives often do not want to talk about it, according to a study by academics at the University of Western Australia.

The study, published in Psychological Science, found that people who had experienced a “distressful event” in their life were more likely to want to avoid talking about it.

“We wanted to understand why people were avoiding talking about their experiences of emotional distress and whether this avoidance of talking about feelings is related to the extent to which they are stigmatised,” said Dr Joanna Bekkonen from the University’s School of Psychology.

Dr Bekkeren and her colleagues recruited 101 people who reported feeling distressed in the past year to participate in the study.

All of them had experienced an emotional trauma or a trauma involving a threat to their self-esteem.

“Our data suggest that individuals with a history of emotional trauma are more likely than those without to report feeling distressed,” Dr Bekerkonen said.

“In other words, if someone who experienced emotional trauma is also stigmatised, they may be more likely in the long term to be reluctant to talk.”

Dr Bkerkonen and her team looked at the impact of distress on self-concept, and also at whether it had an impact on whether people were willing to talk to their healthcare providers about their trauma.

They found that those who had been emotionally distressed in their past year reported less desire to talk with healthcare providers, with a stronger association between feelings of distress and more stigma.

“What we found is that those with a mental health disorder who are stigmatized are more willing to be stigmatized by their healthcare provider if that stigma impacts on their ability to access care,” Dr Azevedo said.

‘Stigma hurts’ The researchers also found that distress was associated with an increased likelihood of being reluctant to seek treatment for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The more distress we feel, the more we may be reluctant in seeking medical help for our mental health conditions,” Dr Dr Bokkeren said.

“It may be that stigma affects us as individuals and as individuals as a whole, and this is an important issue to take into account.”

Dr Acevedo and her co-authors believe that stigma and shame in general are not just bad for mental health, but also harmful for social standing.

“If we are stigmatising someone because of their mental health condition, that person will be less likely to seek help,” Dr Sato said.

She said that stigma can lead to poor mental health outcomes.

“A person with a psychiatric disorder will often be at a high risk of having a mental disorder and it’s the stigma associated with having a psychiatric condition that leads to the higher risk of depression, and other mental health issues,” Dr Kuchera said.