Mental health literacy and attitude towards people with mental illness: a trend analysis based on population surveys in the eastern part of Germany

M C Angermeyer, A Holzinger, H Matschinger
European Psychiatry: the Journal of the Association of European Psychiatrists 2009, 24 (4): 225-32

BACKGROUND: There is growing evidence that mental health literacy has improved in western countries in recent years. The question arises as to whether this trend is paralleled by an improvement of attitudes towards people with mental illness.

AIM: To examine the development of mental health literacy and the desire for social distance towards people with schizophrenia and major depressive disorder in Eastern Germany over a time period of eight years.

METHOD: A trend analysis was carried out using data from two population surveys conducted in the eastern part of Germany in 1993 and 2001. By means of a fully structured interview psychiatric labelling, causal beliefs, help-seeking and treatment recommendations as well as the desire for social distance was assessed.

RESULTS: While there was an increase in the mental health literacy of the public, the desire for social distance from people with major depression and schizophrenia remained unchanged or even increased.

CONCLUSIONS: The assumption underlying a number of anti-stigma campaigns, namely that educating people about mental disorders may automatically lead to the improvement of their attitudes towards the mentally ill, appears questionable.

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