Epidemiologic Terms, Concepts, and Levels of Investigation

  • John J. Schwab
  • Mary E. Schwab
Part of the Topics in General Psychiatry book series (TGPS)


In an epidemiologic study the conceptualization and definition of the problem are the primary requisites. Conceptualization involves a frame of reference for ordering one’s thoughts coherently, the formulation of hypotheses, and the development of methods and strategies for testing hypotheses. For example, the comprehensive epidemiologic investigation of psychiatric disorder in the community, the Stirling County Study,2 had a highly developed conceptual basis. The problem to be studied was possible relationships between levels of community integration-disintegration and the prevalence of mental illness in various communities in the county. The researchers first conducted preliminary fieldwork to obtain information about the human ecology and other environmental characteristics of the area. Then they developed measurable indices of community integration-disintegration (the independent variable), methods for case-finding, and an operational definition of mental illness (the dependent variable).* They postulated bridging mechanisms that offered explanations for relationships between two sets of variables. Such a conceptualization of the problem enabled the investigators to formulate and test hypotheses about relationships between the independent and dependent variables; for example, their results supported the hypothesis that disintegrated communities contained more mentally ill persons than the integrated communities. (See Chapter 11.)


Mental Illness Period Prevalence Descriptive Epidemiology Royal Free Hospital Psychiatric Epidemiology 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • John J. Schwab
    • 1
  • Mary E. Schwab
    • 2
  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA
  2. 2.Massachusetts Mental Health CenterBostonUSA

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