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, 14 (2), 94-106

Mental Health Literacy for Anxiety Disorders: How Perceptions of Symptom Severity Might Relate to Recognition of Psychological Distress

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Mental Health Literacy for Anxiety Disorders: How Perceptions of Symptom Severity Might Relate to Recognition of Psychological Distress

Daniel J Paulus et al. J Public Ment Health.

Abstract

Purpose: Improving mental health literacy is an important consideration when promoting expedient and effective treatment seeking for psychological disorders. Low recognition serves as a barrier to treatment (Coles and Coleman, 2010), and this article examines recognition by lay individuals of severity for three psychological disorders: social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and major depression using a dimensional approach.

Design: Vignettes of mild/subclinical, moderate, and severe cases of each disorder were rated for severity by a team of expert assessors and 270 participants (mean age = 26.8; 76.7% women).

Findings: Difference ratings were calculated comparing participants' responses to scores from the assessors. A within-groups factorial ANOVA with LSD follow-up was performed to examine the effects of Diagnosis and Severity on difference ratings. Both main effects [Diagnosis, F(2, 536)=35.26, Mse=1.24; Severity, F(2, 536)=9.44, Mse=1.93] and the interaction were significant [F(4, 1072)=13.70, Mse=1.13] all p's < 0.001. Social anxiety cases were underrated in the mild/subclinical and moderate cases, generalized anxiety cases were underrated at all three severities, and major depression cases were overrated at all three severities.

Social implications: Judgments of severity may underlie the low recognition rates for social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Future efforts should focus on improved recognition and education regarding anxiety disorders in the population, particularly before they become severe.

Value: This project demonstrates the importance of considering judgments of symptom severity on a continuum, and in a range of cases, rather than just the ability to correctly label symptoms, when determining whether or not people recognize psychological disorders.

Keywords: Anxiety Disorders; Attitudes; Awareness; Health Knowledge; Mental Health; Mental Health Literacy; Practice; Recognition.

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