Public beliefs and attitudes towards depression in Italy: a national survey

PLoS One. 2013 May 20;8(5):e63806. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063806. Print 2013.


Background: Previous studies have shown that attitudes towards depression may be influenced by country-specific social and cultural factors. A survey was carried out to collect beliefs on and attitudes toward depression in Italy, which has an established community-based mental health system.

Methods: A telephone survey was carried out in a probabilistic sample aged ≥15 years. A 20-item questionnaire was administered to explore knowledge of depression, stigma, causal beliefs, treatment preference, and help-seeking attitudes.

Results: Of the 1001 participants, 98% were aware of depression, and 62% had experienced it, either directly or indirectly. A widespread belief (75%) was that people suffering from depression should avoid talking about their problem. A minority of the sample viewed depression as a condition that should be managed without recourse to external help or a "socially dangerous" illness. Among perceived causes of depression, most respondents mentioned life stressors or physical strains. Psychologists were often indicated as an adequate source of professional help. Half of the sample believed that depression should be pharmacologically treated, but drugs were often seen as addictive. Referring to a primary care physician (PCP) was considered embarrassing; furthermore, many people thought that PCPs are too busy to treat patients suffering from depression.

Conclusions: Our findings indicate that depression is seen as a reaction to significant life events that should be overcome with the support of significant others or the help of health professionals (mainly psychologists). However, there are still barriers to the disclosure of depressive symptoms to PCPs, and concerns about the addictive effect of antidepressants. In the presence of a gap between people's beliefs and what health professionals consider appropriate for the treatment of depression, a "shared decision making" approach to treatment selection should be adopted taking into account the patients' preference for psychological interventions to ensure active compliance with effective treatments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Depression / epidemiology*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Public Opinion
  • Social Stigma
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Grant support

This survey has been funded by the Italian Ministry of Health, under the 2006 Strategic Programme. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.