Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health

Part of the series Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research pp 75-93


Public Beliefs About Mental Illness

  • Jason SchnittkerAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania Email author 

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Public beliefs about mental illness are important for understanding when and how the public seeks treatment for mental illness, as well as how they behave toward those who suffer from mental illness. This chapter reviews recent research on public beliefs, focusing on trends. Although the public increasingly endorses a biomedical model, including a growing appreciation of genetic causes, the stigma of mental illness remains, buttressed by the public’s lingering fear of violence among those with mental illness. In addition, the public shows increasing enthusiasm for medical treatment for psychiatric disorders, but this is mixed with uncertainty regarding some particular applications. A close inspection of the public’s beliefs reveals more complexity than might be apparent when interpreting their beliefs in terms of mental health literacy or in terms of the consistency of public beliefs with a standard biomedical approach.


Mental illness public beliefs stigma surveys genetics psychiatric treatment