Depression self-labeling in U.S. college students: Associations with perceived control and coping strategies

Isaac L. Ahuvia*, Jessica L. Schleider, Elizabeth T. Kneeland, Jason S. Moser, Hans S. Schroder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Research on mental illness labeling has demonstrated that self-labeling (identifying with a mental illness label, e.g., “I have depression”) is associated with internalized stigma, maladaptive responses to that stigma, and lower quality of life. However, research has not yet examined the link between self-labeling and how individuals cope with emotional distress. It is important to understand this relationship because adaptive and maladaptive methods of coping can lead to positive and negative mental illness outcomes. Methods: This cross-sectional study examined the link between depression self-labeling, depression symptoms, and three constructs related to depression self-management (perceived control over depression, cognitive emotion regulation strategies, and help-seeking beliefs) in a large (N = 1423) sample of U.S. college students. Results: Approximately one-fifth of students (22.2 %) self-labeled as having depression, while 39.0 % were estimated to meet diagnostic criteria for MDD. After controlling for depression symptom severity, self-labeling was associated with lower levels of perceived control over depression (p = .002), more catastrophizing (p = .013), less perspective taking, refocusing, reappraisal, and planning (ps < 0.05), and more positive help-seeking attitudes towards medication (p < .001) but not therapy. Limitations: Results are non-causal and may not generalize to non-college populations. Conclusions: Self-labeling may inform how individuals cope with emotional distress, with the potential for positive and negative effects on clinical outcomes. This is consistent with well-established research on self-labeling with regards to stigma, but extends this research in important new directions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)202-210
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - Apr 15 2024


  • Coping
  • Depression
  • Emotion regulation
  • Help-seeking attitudes
  • Perceived control
  • Self-identification
  • Self-labeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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