Public awareness campaigns about depression and suicide: a review

Psychiatr Serv. 2009 Sep;60(9):1203-13. doi: 10.1176/ps.2009.60.9.1203.


Objective: Numerous institutions, including the World Health Organization, recommend education campaigns targeted at the general public to improve awareness of suicidal crises and, more broadly, of depression; to improve access to care; and to combat the stigma associated with these illnesses and discrimination against people who have them. The purpose of this literature review was to gather information on campaigns about depression or suicide awareness and summarize data on the impact and effectiveness of these campaigns.

Methods: A search was conducted of MEDLINE, the Cochrane Library, PsycINFO, HDA (Health Development Agency) Evidence Base, DARE (Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects), and the ISI Web of Science to identify articles written in English and published between 1987 and 2007 that described depression or suicide awareness programs that targeted the public.

Results: Among the 200 publications for which references were found, 43 publications that described 15 programs in eight countries met inclusion criteria. Comparing the programs was difficult because of the diversity of their objectives and the methods used to deliver the programs and to evaluate them. Results suggest that these programs contributed to a modest improvement in public knowledge of and attitudes toward depression or suicide, but most program evaluations did not assess the durability of the attitude changes. No study has clearly demonstrated that such campaigns help to increase care seeking or to decrease suicidal behavior.

Conclusions: Developing guidelines for assessment of public education campaigns to improve knowledge about suicide and depression is essential for the sharing of knowledge among scientists and stakeholders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Awareness*
  • Depression*
  • Health Education / methods*
  • Humans
  • Public Opinion
  • Suicide*