Depression as a concealable stigmatized identity: what influences whether students conceal or reveal their depression in undergraduate research experiences?

Katelyn M. Cooper, Logan E. Gin, Sara E. Brownell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Concealable stigmatized identities (CSIs) are identities that can be kept hidden or invisible and that carry negative stereotypes. Depression is one of the most common CSIs among undergraduates. However, to our knowledge, no studies have explored how students manage depression as a CSI in the context of undergraduate research, a high-impact practice for undergraduate science students. Concealing CSIs can cause psychological distress and revealing CSIs can be beneficial; however, it is unknown whether these findings extend to students with depression in the context of undergraduate research experiences. In this study, we interviewed 35 life sciences majors with depression from 12 research-intensive institutions across the United States who participated in undergraduate research. We sought to understand to what extent students reveal their depression in research and to describe the challenges of concealing depression and the benefits of revealing depression in this specific context. Additionally, we explored whether students knew scientists with depression and how knowing a scientist with depression might affect them. Results: Most students did not reveal their depression in their undergraduate research experiences. Those who did typically revealed it to another undergraduate researcher and few revealed it to a faculty mentor. Students who concealed their depression feared the potential consequences of revealing their identity, such as being treated negatively by others in the lab. Students who revealed their depression highlighted a set of benefits that they experienced after revealing their depression, such as receiving support and flexibility from their research mentor. We found that few students knew a specific scientist with depression. However, students perceived that knowing a scientist with depression would help them realize that they are not the only one experiencing depression in science and that people with depression can be successful in science. Conclusions: This study illustrates that students with depression would benefit from research environments that are supportive of students with depression so that they can feel comfortable revealing their depression if they would like to. We also identified that students may benefit from knowing successful scientists with depression. We hope this study encourages undergraduate research mentors to support students with depression and ultimately reduces the stigma around CSIs such as depression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number27
JournalInternational Journal of STEM Education
Volume7
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

Keywords

  • Biology
  • CSI
  • Concealable stigmatized identities
  • Depression
  • Identity interference
  • Life sciences
  • Mental health
  • Research
  • Role model
  • STEM
  • Stigma
  • Undergraduate research experiences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

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