Surveys of the public in several countries have found a predominant belief in social environmental causes of mental disorders. The present study was conducted to determine whether this has changed over time in Australia.
Beliefs about causes and risk factors were assessed using questions based around case vignettes of a person with depression or schizophrenia. These questions were asked in a national survey of 2,031 Australians aged 18–74 carried out in 1995, and a second survey of 1,823 persons carried out in 2003–2004.
The major changes were an increase in belief in genetic causes of both depression and schizophrenia, increases in beliefs about problems from childhood and the death of someone close as causes of depression, and a decrease in the belief that “weakness of character” is a cause of schizophrenia.
There has been an increase in belief about genetic causes, which may be due to publicity about the human genome project and related scientific advances. This change has not been at the expense of belief in social causes, and it has been accompanied by a decrease in the belief that personal weakness is a cause.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Cohen J (1992) A power primer. Psychol Bull 112:155–159
Dietrich S, Beck M, Bujantugs B, Kenzine D, Matschinger H, Angermeyer MC (2004) The relationship between public causal beliefs and social distance toward mentally ill people. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 38:348–354
Hugo CJ, Boshoff DEL, Traut A, Zungu-Dirwayi N, Stein DJ (2003) Community attitudes toward and knowledge of mental illness in South Africa. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 38:715–719
Jorm AF, Korten AE, Jacomb PA, Christensen H, Rodgers B, Pollitt P (1997) Public beliefs about causes and risk factors for depression and schizophrenia. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 32:143–148
Jorm AF, Blewitt KA, Griffiths KM, Kitchener BA, Parslow RA (2005) Mental health first aid responses of the public: results from an Australian national survey. BMC Psychiatry 5:9
Jorm AF, Christensen H, Griffiths KM (in press) The public's ability to recognize mental disorders and their beliefs about treatment: changes in Australia over 8 years. Aust N Z J Psychiatry
Lauber C, Falcato L, Nordt C, Rössler W (2003) Lay beliefs about causes of depression. Acta Psychiatr Scand 108(Suppl. 418):96–99
Lauber C, Nordt C, Falcato L, Rössler W (2004) Factors influencing social distance toward people with mental illness. Community Ment Health J 40:265–274
Link BG, Phelan JC, Bresnahan M, Stueve A, Pescosolido BA (1999) Public conceptions of mental illness: labels, causes, dangerousness, and social distance. Am J Public Health 89:1328–1333
Magliano L, Fiorillo A, De Rossa C, Malangone C, Maj M (2004) Beliefs about schizophrenia in Italy: a comparative nationwide survey of the general public, mental health professionals, and patients' relatives. Can J Psychiatry 49:171–179
Matschinger H, Angermeyer MC (1996) Lay beliefs about the causes of mental disorders: a new methodological approach. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 31:309–315
McKeon P, Carrick S (1991) Public attitudes to depression: a national survey. Ir J Psychol Med 8:116–121
Priest RG, Vize C, Roberts A, Roberts M, Tylee A (1996) Lay people's attitudes to treatment of depression: results of opinion poll for Defeat Depression Campaign just before its launch. BMJ 313:858–859
Read J, Harre N (2001) The role of biological and genetic causal beliefs in the stigmatization of ‘mental patients’. J Ment Health 10:223–235
Read J, Law A (1999) The relationship of causal beliefs and contact with users of mental health services to attitudes to the ‘mentally ill’. Int J Soc Psychiatry 45:216–229
The 1995 survey was carried out with funding from a National Health and Medical Research Council Unit Grant. The 2003–2004 survey was carried out as part of the Australia–Japan Partnership, a cross-national study of mental health literacy in both countries. This survey was funded by the Australian Department of Health and Aging, a National Health and Medical Research Council Program Grant, and “beyondblue: the national depression initiative”. We wish to thank our colleagues who were involved in the 1995 survey and Kelly Blewitt for research assistance with the 2003–2004 survey.
About this article
Cite this article
Jorm, A.F., Christensen, H. & Griffiths, K.M. Public beliefs about causes and risk factors for mental disorders. Soc Psychiat Epidemiol 40, 764–767 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-005-0940-z
- mental health literacy
- risk factors