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BMC Psychiatry. 2005 Sep 21;5:33.

Public beliefs about causes and risk factors for mental disorders: a comparison of Japan and Australia.

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Department of Social Work, The Faculty of Human Sociology, Nagasaki International University, Nagasaki, 859-3298, Japan.



Surveys of the public in a range of Western countries have shown a predominant belief in social stressors as causes of mental disorders. However, there has been little direct cross-cultural comparison. Here we report a comparison of public beliefs about the causes of mental disorders in Japan and Australia.


Surveys of the public were carried out in each country using as similar a methodology as feasible. In both countries, household interviews were carried out concerning beliefs about causes and risk factors in relation to one of four case vignettes, describing either depression, depression with suicidal thoughts, early schizophrenia or chronic schizophrenia. In Japan, the survey involved 2000 adults aged between 20 and 69 from 25 regional sites spread across the country. In Australia, the survey involved a national sample of 3998 adults aged 18 years or over.


In both countries, both social and personal vulnerability causes were commonly endorsed across all vignettes. The major differences in causal beliefs were that Australians were more likely to believe in infection, allergy and genetics, while Japanese were more likely to endorse "nervous person" and "weakness of character". For risk factors, Australians tended to believe that women, the young and the poor were more at risk of depression, but these were not seen as higher risk groups by Japanese.


In both Japan and Australia, the public has a predominant belief in social causes and risk factors, with personal vulnerability factors also seen as important. However, there are also some major differences between the countries. The belief in weakness of character as a cause, which was stronger in Japan, is of particular concern because it may reduce the likelihood of seeking professional help and support from others.

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