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      Age differences in mental health literacy

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          Abstract

          Background

          The community's knowledge and beliefs about mental health problems, their risk factors, treatments and sources of help may vary as a function of age.

          Methods

          Data were taken from an epidemiological survey conducted during 2003–2004 with a national clustered sample of Australian adults aged 18 years and over. Following the presentation of a vignette describing depression (n = 1001) or schizophrenia (n = 997), respondents were asked a series of questions relating to their knowledge and recognition of the disorder, beliefs about the helpfulness of treating professionals and medical, psychological and lifestyle treatments, and likely causes.

          Results

          Participant age was coded into five categories and cross-tabulated with mental health literacy variables. Comparisons between age groups revealed that although older adults (70+ years) were poorer than younger age groups at correctly recognising depression and schizophrenia, young adults (18–24 years) were more likely to misidentify schizophrenia as depression. Differences were also observed between younger and older age groups in terms of beliefs about the helpfulness of certain treating professionals and medical and lifestyle treatments for depression and schizophrenia, and older respondents were more likely to believe that schizophrenia could be caused by character weakness.

          Conclusion

          Differences in mental health literacy across the adult lifespan suggest that more specific, age appropriate messages about mental health are required for younger and older age groups. The tendency for young adults to 'over-identify' depression signals the need for awareness campaigns to focus on differentiation between mental disorders.

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          Most cited references20

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          "Mental health literacy": a survey of the public's ability to recognise mental disorders and their beliefs about the effectiveness of treatment.

          To assess the public's recognition of mental disorders and their beliefs about the effectiveness of various treatments ("mental health literacy"). A cross-sectional survey, in 1995, with structured interviews using vignettes of a person with either depression or schizophrenia. A representative national sample of 2031 individuals aged 18-74 years; 1010 participants were questioned about the depression vignette and 1021 about the schizophrenia vignette. Most of the participants recognised the presence of some sort of mental disorder: 72% for the depression vignette (correctly labelled as depression by 39%) and 84% for the schizophrenia vignette (correctly labelled by 27%). When various people were rated as likely to be helpful or harmful for the person described in the vignette for depression, general practitioners (83%) and counsellors (74%) were most often rated as helpful, with psychiatrists (51%) and psychologists (49%) less so. Corresponding data for the schizophrenia vignette were: counsellors (81%), GPs (74%), psychiatrists (71%) and psychologists (62%). Many standard psychiatric treatments (antidepressants, antipsychotics, electroconvulsive therapy, admission to a psychiatric ward) were more often rated as harmful than helpful, and some nonstandard treatments were rated highly (increased physical or social activity, relaxation and stress management, reading about people with similar problems). Vitamins and special diets were more often rated as helpful than were antidepressants and antipsychotics. If mental disorders are to be recognised early in the community and appropriate intervention sought, the level of mental health literacy needs to be raised. Further, public understanding of psychiatric treatments can be considerably improved.
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            Stigma about depression and its impact on help-seeking intentions.

            Research has shown that people are reluctant to seek professional help for depression, especially from mental health professionals. This may be because of the impact of stigma which can involve people's own responses to depression and help-seeking (self stigma) as well as their perceptions of others' negative responses (perceived stigma). The aim of this article was to examine community help-seeking intentions and stigmatizing beliefs associated with depression. A total of 1,312 adults randomly sampled from the Australian community completed a questionnaire providing a depression vignette and measures of self- and perceived-stigmatizing responses, source-specific help-seeking intentions, current depressive symptoms and depression experience, and demographics. Many people reported they would feel embarrassed about seeking help from professionals, and believed that other people would have a negative reaction to them if they sought such help. Some expected professionals to respond negatively to them. Responses varied according to the sources of professional help. Self-embarrassment and expectations that others would respond negatively predicted the likelihood of help-seeking from professional sources. Self- and perceived-stigmatizing responses to help-seeking for depression are prevalent in the community and are associated with reluctance to seek professional help. Interventions should focus on minimizing expectations of negative responses from others and negative self-responses to help-seeking, and should target younger people.
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              Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (fourth edition, text revision)

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                Author and article information

                Journal
                BMC Public Health
                BMC Public Health
                BioMed Central
                1471-2458
                2008
                20 April 2008
                : 8
                : 125
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Centre for Mental Health Research, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, 0200, Australia
                [2 ]ORYGEN Research Centre, Department of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne, Locked Bag 10, Parkville, Victoria, 3052, Australia
                Article
                1471-2458-8-125
                10.1186/1471-2458-8-125
                2358892
                18423049
                09ac2f95-76d9-4bc9-b4ac-677255aa31d5
                Copyright © 2008 Farrer et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                History
                : 11 September 2007
                : 20 April 2008
                Categories
                Research Article

                Public health
                Public health

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