Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 48, Issue 10, pp 1637–1645

Medicalizing versus psychologizing mental illness: what are the implications for help seeking and stigma? A general population study

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00127-013-0671-5

Cite this article as:
Pattyn, E., Verhaeghe, M., Sercu, C. et al. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2013) 48: 1637. doi:10.1007/s00127-013-0671-5



This study contrasts the medicalized conceptualization of mental illness with psychologizing mental illness and examines what the consequences are of adhering to one model versus the other for help seeking and stigma.


The survey “Stigma in a Global Context–Belgian Mental Health Study” (2009) conducted face-to-face interviews among a representative sample of the general Belgian population using the vignette technique to depict schizophrenia (N = 381). Causal attributions, labeling processes, and the disease view are addressed. Help seeking refers to open-ended help-seeking suggestions (general practitioner, psychiatrist, psychologist, family, friends, and self-care options). Stigma refers to social exclusion after treatment. The data are analyzed by means of logistic and linear regression models in SPSS Statistics 19.


People who adhere to the biopsychosocial (versus psychosocial) model are more likely to recommend general medical care and people who apply the disease view are more likely to recommend specialized medical care. Regarding informal help, those who prefer the biopsychosocial model are less likely to recommend consulting friends than those who adhere to the psychosocial model. Respondents who apply a medical compared to a non-medical label are less inclined to recommend self-care. As concerns treatment stigma, respondents who apply a medical instead of a non-medical label are more likely to socially exclude someone who has been in psychiatric treatment.


Medicalizing mental illness involves a package deal: biopsychosocial causal attributions and applying the disease view facilitate medical treatment recommendations, while labeling seems to trigger stigmatizing attitudes.


Public opinion surveyMental IllnessHelp seekingStigmaSchizophrenia

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, HeDeRa (Health and Demographic Research)Ghent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Katho University CollegeKortrijkBelgium