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Public beliefs about schizophrenia and depression: similarities and differences

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Stigma research in psychiatry has mainly focused on mental illness per se. However, recent studies suggest that considerable differences exist between the various disorders. Therefore, we set out to examine similarities and differences of the public’s conceptions of schizophrenia and major depression.


In the spring of 2001, a representative survey was carried out in Germany involving individuals of German nationality who were at least 18 years old and who were living in private households (n=5025).


Both disorders have in common that they are identified by the majority of the public as an indication of mental illness, that acute stress is most frequently endorsed as cause, that from most respondents a poor natural course is expected which contrasts with a remarkably favorable treatment prognosis, and that people suffering from the two disorders most frequently evoke pity and a desire to help. The perception of dangerousness is closely associated with increased fear and anger, and decreased pity. One of the most notable differences between the two disorders is that while in the case of schizophrenia, labeling as mental illness primarily affects respondents’ emotional reactions negatively, in the case of major depression a positive effect prevails. People with schizophrenia are, by far, more frequently considered as dangerous and unpredictable. They evoke more fear while people with major depression evoke more pro-social reactions.


The described similarities and differences of public beliefs and attitudes with regard to schizophrenia and major depression have important implications for the planning of anti-stigma programs and may help to develop more tailor-made interventions.

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Correspondence to Matthias C. Angermeyer.

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Angermeyer, M.C., Matschinger, H. Public beliefs about schizophrenia and depression: similarities and differences. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 38, 526–534 (2003).

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