Lay beliefs about treatments for people with mental illness and their implications for antistigma strategies

Can J Psychiatry. 2005 Oct;50(12):745-52. doi: 10.1177/070674370505001203.


Objective: First, to describe factors influencing the public's attitude toward treatment recommendations for people with mental illness; second, to identify coherent belief systems about the helpfulness of specific interventions; and third, to discuss how to ameliorate mental health literacy and antistigma strategies.

Method: Participants of a representative telephone survey in the general population (n = 1737) were presented with a vignette depicting a person with either schizophrenia or depression. From a list of suggestions, they were asked to recommend treatments for this person. We used a factor analysis to group these proposals and used the factors as the dependent variables in a multiple regression analysis.

Results: Treatment suggestions are summarized in 4 groups, each characterizing a specific therapeutic approach: 1) psychopharmacological proposals (that is, psychotropic drugs), 2) therapeutic counselling (from a psychologist or psychiatrist or psychotherapy), 3) alternative suggestions (such as homeopathy), and 4) social advice (for example, from a social worker). Medical treatments were proposed by people who had a higher education, who had a positive attitude toward psychopharmacology, who correctly recognized the person depicted in the vignette as being ill, who were presented with the schizophrenia vignette, who kept social distance, and who had contact with mentally ill people. The variables could explain alternative and social treatment proposals only to a small extent.

Conclusions: The public's beliefs about treatment for people with mental illness are organized into 4 coherent systems, 2 of which involve evidence-based treatments. Medical treatment proposals are influenced by adequate mental health literacy; however, they are also linked to more social distance toward people with mental illness. Additionally, efforts to better explain nonmedical treatment suggestions are needed. Implications for further antistigma strategies are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Culture*
  • Depression / therapy
  • Drug Therapy
  • Educational Status
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Homeopathy
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychoanalytic Therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Schizophrenia / therapy
  • Stereotyping*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires