Surveys of medical seeking preference, mental health literacy, and attitudes toward mental illness in Taiwan, 1990-2000

Chia-Yi Wu, Shen-Ing Liu, Shu-Sen Chang, Fang-Ju Sun
Journal of the Formosan Medical Association 2014, 113 (1): 33-41

BACKGROUND/PURPOSE: Mental health promotion campaigns require a good understanding of public attitudes and mental health literacy. Few studies have investigated changes in these two aspects over time. We aimed to examine such changes and their associations with help-seeking preference in Taiwan.

METHODS: Data were extracted from the Taiwan Social Change Survey (1990, 1995, and 2000) based on national representative samples. Each wave of the surveys included four questions about attitudes toward severe mental illness, a case vignette describing depressive and anxiety symptoms to evaluate respondents' mental health literacy, and their preference of medical and/or informal help-seeking if they develop such symptoms. Mental and physical health statuses measured using the Chinese Health Questionnaire and self-reported chronic physical illnesses were included as covariates.

RESULTS: There were 2531, 2075, and 1892 respondents in the three waves of the surveys, respectively. During the 1990 s, approximately one in four to five Taiwanese held some misconceptions toward mental illness. The attitudes toward mental illness were generally not associated with medical or informal help-seeking preference after statistical adjustment. However, respondents viewing symptoms in the vignette as physical or mental in origin were more willing to seek help than those who saw these symptoms as not being an illness.

CONCLUSION: Attribution of depressive and anxiety symptoms appeared to be more likely to influence help-seeking behaviors than attitudes toward mental illness. Enhancing public mental health literacy toward depression may help facilitate help-seeking in response to potential mental illness.

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