In addition to mental health literacy, several potentially conflicting emotions and attitudes among the public are hypothesized to guide their recommendations for specific mental health treatments. It is unclear whether evidence-based treatment strategies are guided by pro-social or stigmatizing attitudes and emotions. In a representative population survey in Germany (n = 3642), we asked respondents to what extent they would recommend psychotropic medication, psychotherapy and relaxation techniques for a person with mental illness described in an unlabelled vignette. For each treatment recommendation, we used multinomial logistic regression analyses to obtain predicted probabilities. Predictors comprised illness recognition, vignette condition, causal beliefs (current stress, childhood adversities, biogenetic), emotions (fear, anger, pro-social reactions), social distance, age, gender and education. Fear predicted greater probability for recommending psychotropic drugs in all investigated illnesses (p < 0.001), whereas associations of fear with recommending psychotherapy were generally lower and no associations with the recommendation for relaxation techniques were found. Anger was related to fewer recommendations for psychotherapy in all illnesses (p < 0.01). Pro-social reactions were predominantly related to the recommendation of relaxation techniques for a person with schizophrenia or major depression (p < 0.001). Higher desire for social distance predicted fewer recommendations for relaxation techniques in all three vignette conditions (p < 0.05). Our study corroborates findings that treatment recommendations are not necessarily linked to pro-social reactions or mental health literacy. The recommendation for a treatment modality like psychotropic medication or psychotherapy can be linked to underlying fear, possibly reflecting a public desire for protection against people with mental illness.
Help seeking Treatment recommendation Stigma Social distance Population survey Emotions
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The authors thank Dr. Nicholas Meyer, Kings College London, for valuable comments on the manuscript.
This study was funded by the Fritz-Thyssen-Stiftung (Az. 10.11.2.175).
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