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Association of lay beliefs about causes of depression with social distance


Prof. Dr. med. Wolfgang Gaebel, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, LVR-Clinics Düsseldorf, Bergische Landstr. 2, 40629 Düsseldorf.




The aim of this study was to examine the association of lay attributions about causes of depression with attitudes and prejudiced behaviour towards people with depression.


Subjects (1631 German-speakers aged 18 and over, randomly selected) were interviewed in two German cities by telephone using a standardized questionnaire. The survey assessed knowledge about depression, stereotypical attitudes and social distance towards persons with depression.


The results indicate that a majority of the respondents holds predominantly non-pejorative attitudes towards persons with depression. The majority estimated psychosocial causes as being most important for the genesis of depression. Stronger social distance was linked to an estimation of personal causes as relevant. Subgroup differences were apparent with respect to age, sex and reported contact to people with depression.


Improvements in the education of the public about depression should be based on a multifactorial model. Future interventions should promote contact with people with depression and place special emphasis on conveying information in a suitable manner depending on the needs of different target groups.