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A Descriptive Diagnosis or a Causal Explanation? Accuracy of Depictions of Depression on Authoritative Health Organization Websites.

Psychopathology 2024 June 13
INTRODUCTION: Psychiatric diagnoses are descriptive in nature, but the lay public commonly misconceives them as causal explanations. It is not known whether this logical error, a form of circular reasoning, can sometimes be mistakenly reinforced by health authorities themselves. In this study, we investigated the prevalence of misleading causal descriptions of depression in the information provided by authoritative mental health organizations on widely accessed internet sites.

METHODS: We searched for popular websites managed by leading mental health organizations and conducted a content analysis to evaluate whether they presented depression accurately as a description of symptoms, or inaccurately as a causal explanation.

RESULTS: Most websites used language that inaccurately described depression as a causal explanation to depressive symptoms.

CONCLUSION: Leading professional medical and psychiatric organizations commonly confound depression, a descriptive diagnostic label, with a causal explanation on their most prominently accessed informational websites. We argue that the scientifically inaccurate causal language in depictions of psychiatric diagnoses is potentially harmful because it leads the public to misunderstand the nature of mental health problems. Mental health authorities providing psychoeducation should clearly state that psychiatric diagnoses are purely descriptive to avoid misleading the public.

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