Background: This study investigated the knowledge of depression and preference for professional help, medications and treatment methods among Australians of Chinese-speaking background, and the perceptions of this population of the causes of mental illness.
Methods: Adopting a cluster convenience sampling method, the study recruited 200 Chinese-speaking subjects from four major areas in metropolitan Melbourne where many Chinese live. The respondents were presented with a vignette describing an individual with depression and then asked questions to assess their understanding of depression and preference for professional help, medications and treatment methods. A comparative approach was used to compare the findings with those of a previous study of the mental health literacy of Australian and Japanese adults.
Results: Compared to the Australian and Japanese samples, a much lower percentage of Chinese-speaking Australians (14%) could correctly identify major depression described in the vignette, and a higher percentage believed that counseling professionals could be helpful. Higher percentages of those who believed that close family members could be helpful were found in the Chinese-speaking Australian and Japanese samples, and these two groups also expressed more uncertainty about the usefulness or harmfulness of certain medications compared to the Australian sample. Higher percentages of respondents in both the Chinese-speaking Australian and the Australian sample considered "lifestyle changes" to be helpful compared to the Japanese sample. In the Chinese-speaking sample, 30%, 17.4%, 33% and 27% of the respondents rated "traditional Chinese medicine doctors," "Chinese herbal medications," "taking Chinese nutritional foods/supplements" and "qiqong" as helpful. Many perceived "changing fungshui" and "traditional Chinese worship" to be harmful. Regarding the perception of causes of mental illness, items related to psychosocial perspectives including "life stress" and "interpersonal conflict" were rated highly by the respondents, whereas traditional beliefs including "punishment for misdeeds conducted by ancestors" and "demon possession" had the lowest ratings.
Conclusions: Campaigns to increase the mental health literacy of Chinese-speaking Australians are needed. The above-mentioned socially and culturally driven beliefs need to be taken into consideration in the development of culturally relevant education programs.