Public belief systems about the helpfulness of interventions for depression: associations with history of depression and professional help-seeking

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2000 May;35(5):211-9. doi: 10.1007/s001270050230.


Background: Previous research has found that there are major differences between public and professional beliefs about the helpfulness of interventions for depression. The public appear to be guided by general belief systems about the helpfulness of medical, psychological and lifestyle interventions rather than by specific knowledge about what interventions are effective for depression. The present paper examines the effect that experiencing depression and receiving treatment might have on these beliefs.

Method: The study involved a postal survey of 3109 adults from a region of New South Wales, Australia. Respondents were presented with a vignette describing a person with depression. They were asked to rate the likely helpfulness of various types of professional and non-professional help and of pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions for the person described in the vignette. Respondents also completed the Goldberg Depression Scale and were asked whether they had ever had an episode of depression and whether they had seen a counsellor or a doctor for it at the time. Structural equation modelling was used to investigate the associations of history of depression and professional help-seeking with belief systems.

Results: A three-factor model was found to fit the helpfulness ratings, with factors reflecting beliefs in medical, psychological and lifestyle interventions. People who had sought help for depression were less likely to believe in the helpfulness of lifestyle interventions and more likely to believe in medical interventions. As well as these general associations with belief systems, having sought help for depression had a number of specific associations with beliefs. Controlling for general belief systems, those who had sought help were more likely to rate antidepressants, holidays, massage and new recreational pursuits as helpful, and were less likely to rate ECT and family as helpful. Those who had a history of depression but had not sought help were more likely to rate counselling as helpful, and less likely to rate family as helpful. Those with current depressive symptoms were less likely to rate telephone counselling, family and friends as helpful.

Conclusion: Having sought help for depression is associated with general belief systems about the helpfulness of lifestyle and medical interventions and also has some associations with specific beliefs that may reflect experiences with treatment (e.g. the helpfulness of antidepressants). Those currently depressed or with a history of depression are less likely to regard family as helpful, possibly due to poorer social support. Generally speaking, having sought help is associated with beliefs closer to those of professionals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Educational Status
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Treatment Outcome