Impact of alternative terminology for depression on help‐seeking intention: a randomized online trial

Jenna Smith*, Erin Cvejic, Tara J. Lal, Alana Fisher, Marguerite Tracy, Kirsten J. McCaffery

*Corresponding author for this work

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People with depression experience barriers to seeking professional help. Different diagnostic terminology can influence people's treatment/management preferences. The aim of this study was to investigate how alternative depression diagnostic labels and recommendations impact help-seeking intentions and psychosocial outcomes.

Participants (18–70 years) were recruited using an online panel (Australia) to complete a randomized controlled trial. They read a hypothetical scenario where they discussed experiencing depressive symptoms with their GP and were randomized to receive one of four diagnoses (“depression,” “burnout,” “functional impairment syndrome” [fictitious label], no label [control]), and one of two follow-up recommendations (“clinical psychologist,” “mind coach”). Primary outcome: help-seeking intention (5-point scale, higher = greater intention); secondary outcomes: intention to speak to boss, self-stigma, worry, perceived severity, illness perceptions, and personal stigma.

A total of 676 participants completed the survey. There was no main effect of diagnostic label on help-seeking intention or stigma outcomes. Intention to speak to a boss was higher with the depression compared to burnout label (MD = 0.40, 95% CI: 0.14–0.66) and perceived severity was higher with the depression label compared to control (MD = 0.48, 95% CI: 0.22–0.74) and all other labels. Those who received the “clinical psychologist” recommendation reported higher help-seeking intention (MD = 0.43, 95% CI: 0.25–0.60) and treatment control (MD = 0.69, 95% CI: 0.29–1.10) compared to the “mind coach” recommendation.

Findings highlight the success of efforts to promote help-seeking from clinical psychologists for depression. If burnout is considered a separate diagnostic entity to depression, greater awareness around what such a diagnosis means may be needed. Future research should examine how different terminologies surrounding other mental health conditions impact help-seeking and stigma.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-85
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Clinical Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date8 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2022. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • depression
  • burnout
  • disease-labeling
  • stigma
  • help-seeking
  • communication


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