Shame plays role in health
DOCTORS could improve patients’ health if they were more aware of the serious impact shame has on the body, research suggests.
Studies have shown that people feeling shame avoid seeking medical treatment or telling doctors the truth about symptoms.
Chronic shame is associated with weight gain, heart disease, hardening of the arteries, and decreased immune function.
In a new study experts at the University of Exeter have recommended doctors should be trained to become aware of the shame felt by a patient.
The use of shaming and stigma to tackle obesity or addiction in health campaigns can also make people’s health worse rather than encouraging them to live a better lifestyle, the experts warn.
Dr Luna Dolezal, who led the study, said: “Shame’s influence is pervasive and pernicious.
“It is imperative that [shame’s] vital role in health, health-related behaviours and illness be recognised and assimilated into medical, social and political consciousness and practice.
“When individuals feel the threat of shame this can lead to failure to seek treatment.
“Failure to disclose the full details of one’s mental or physical ill-health, one’s situation or identity ... may result in inadequate or ineffective treatment being prescribed.
“They may fail to complete treatment and conceal a diagnosis from their family and friends.
“The use of stigma and shame in public health campaigns ... for example, when considering conditions such as obesity, sexual health and addiction, where individuals are seen to be making ‘choices’ that affect their health, should be carefully reconsidered.
“Exacerbating shame for populations that are likely to be dealing with chronic shame and marginalisation may lead to a worsening of overall negative health outcomes.”
Scientists have shown that shame puts a physiological strain on the body and its systems because of chronically elevated hormone levels.
Shame has also been associated with alcoholism, addiction and eating disorders, where people are trying to “numb” themselves from negative feelings.
Patients can feel shame because of their poverty, race or gender, or because they feel physically or socially inadequate.
They can also feel shame because of ageing, disfigurement, infectious diseases, mental health issues, obesity or incontinence.