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BMC Public Health. 2005 May 9;5:44.

Mental health literacy in an educational elite -- an online survey among university students.

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  • 1Psychiatric University Hospital, Zurich, Switzerland.



Mental health literacy is a prerequisite for early recognition and intervention in mental disorders. The aims of this paper are to determine whether a sample of university students recognise different symptoms of depression and schizophrenia and to reveal factors influencing correct recognition.


Bivariate and correspondence analyses of the results from an online survey among university students (n = 225).


Most participants recognised the specific symptoms of depression. The symptoms of schizophrenia were acknowledged to a lower extent. Delusions of control and hallucinations of taste were not identified as symptoms of schizophrenia. Repeated revival of a trauma for depression and split personality for schizophrenia were frequently mistaken as symptoms of the respective disorders. Bivariate analyses demonstrated that previous interest in and a side job related to mental disorders, as well as previous personal treatment experience had a positive influence on symptom recognition. The correspondence analysis showed that male students of natural science, economics and philosophy are illiterate in recognising the symptoms depression and schizophrenia.


Among the educational elite, a wide variability in mental health literacy was found. Therefore, it's important for public mental health interventions to focus on the different recognition rates in depression and schizophrenia. Possibilities for contact must be arranged according to interest and activity (e.g., at work). In order to improve mental health literacy, finally, education and/or internship should be integrated in high school or apprenticeship curricula. Special emphasis must be given towards the effects of gender and stereotypes held about mental illnesses.

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