Doctors could help patients more if they had a greater understanding of how shame impacted their treatment, a new study has suggested.
Patients avoid going to their GP, or revealing some of their symptoms, because they’re embarrassed over issues such as obesity, sexual health and addiction, according to research from the University of Exeter.
Chronic shame can apparently lead to weight gain, heart disease, hardening of the arteries and decreased immune function.
Scientists at the university recommended doctors be trained so they had greater awareness of shame felt by patients.
Dr Luna Dolezal, who led the study, said: ‘Shame’s influence is insidious, pervasive and pernicious.
‘It has a powerful impact on how doctors treat people and on political decisions about health.
‘It is imperative that its vital role in health, health-related behaviours and illness be recognised and assimilated into medical, social and political consciousness and practice.
‘The use of stigma and shame in public health campaigns and as a strategy to motivate for healthy behaviours, for example, when considering conditions such as obesity, sexual health and addiction, where individuals are seen to be making ‘choices’ that affect their health status, should be carefully reconsidered.’
Shame can also impact health by putting a physiological strain on the body due to elevated hormone levels, the study added.
People can also become alcoholics, addicted to drugs or food as they try and find a way to cope with the embarrassment, the report suggested.
The report listed poverty, race, gender and age as other things people could feel shame about.
The study, Health-Related Shame: An Affective Determinant Of Health?, is published in the journal BMJ Medical Humanities.