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Political Ideology and Stigmatizing Attitudes Toward Depression: The Swedish Case

Journal article
Authors Jesper Löve
Monica Bertilsson
Johan Martinsson
Lena Wängnerud
Gunnel Hensing
Published in International Journal of Health Policy and Management
Volume 8
Issue 6
Pages 365-374
ISSN 2322-5939
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Medicine, School of Public Health and Community Medicine
Department of Political Science
Pages 365-374
Language en
Keywords Political Ideology; Depression; Stigmatizing Attitudes; Mental Health; Sweden
Subject categories Political Science, Health Sciences


Stigmatizing attitudes toward persons with mental disorders is a well-established and global phenomenon often leading to discrimination and social exclusion. Although previous research in the United States showed that conservative ideology has been related to stigmatizing attitudes toward mental disorders, there is reason to believe that this mechanism plays a different role in the context of a universal welfare state with a multi-party system such as Sweden. Furthermore, “mental disorders” may signify severe psychotic disorders, which may evoke more negative attitudes. This suggests the importance of specific studies focusing on the more common phenomenon of depression. This paper investigates the relationship between political ideology and stigmatizing attitudes toward depression in Sweden. Methods This study is part of the New Ways research program. Data were collected by the Laboratory of Opinion Research (LORE) at the University of Gothenburg in 2014 (N = 3246). Independent variables were political ideology and party affiliation. The dependent variable was the Depression Stigma Scale (DSS). Data were analyzed with linear regression analyses and analyses of variance. Results More conservative ideology (B = 0.68, standard error [SE] = 0.04, P < .001) and more conservative party affiliation (F(8 2920) = 38.45, P < .001) showed more stigmatizing attitudes toward depression. Item-level analyses revealed a difference where the supporters of the conservative party differed (P < .05) from supporters of the liberal party, with a higher proportion agreeing that “people could snap out of” depression if they wanted to; the populist right-wing party differed from the conservative party with a higher proportion agreeing on items displaying people with depression as “dangerous” and “unpredictable.” Even self-stigma was highest among the populist right-wing party with 22.3% agreeing that “if I had depression I wouldn’t tell….” Conclusion Political ideology was associated with stigmatizing attitudes toward depression in Sweden. The results also confirm the need to distinguish between different forms of conservatism by observing social distance as being a more important driver among voters for the populist right-wing party compared with personal agency and responsibility among voters for the more traditional conservative party.

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