Objective: To explore whether the increase in knowledge about the biological correlates of mental disorders over the last decades has translated into improved public understanding of mental illness, increased readiness to seek mental health care and more tolerant attitudes towards mentally ill persons.
Method: A systematic review of all studies on mental illness-related beliefs and attitudes in the general population published before 31 March 2011, examining the time trends of attitudes with a follow-up interval of at least 2 years and using national representative population samples. A subsample of methodologically homogeneous studies was further included in a meta-regression analysis of time trends.
Results: Thirty-three reports on 16 studies on national time trends met our inclusion criteria, six of which were eligible for a meta-regression analysis. Two major trends emerged: there was a coherent trend to greater mental health literacy, in particular towards a biological model of mental illness, and greater acceptance of professional help for mental health problems. In contrast, however, no changes or even changes to the worse were observed regarding the attitudes towards people with mental illness.
Conclusion: Increasing public understanding of the biological correlates of mental illness seems not to result in better social acceptance of persons with mental illness.
© 2012 John Wiley & Sons A/S.