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Psychiatr Serv. 2009 Mar;60(3):306-12. doi: 10.1176/

Changing perceptions of depression: ten-year trends from the general social survey.

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Department of Psychiatry, School of Social Policy and Practice, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.



The authors examined the changes in beliefs about the causes of and appropriate treatments for major depression between 1996 and 2006 in a representative sampling of U.S. adults.


The authors compared data about depression from the mental health modules of the General Social Survey from 1996 (300 respondents) and 2006 (397 respondents), which measured perceptions of mental illness through use of vignettes.


There was an increase in the belief that depression is attributable to biological causes, from 77% in 1996 to 88% in 2006 (risk ratio [RR]=1.14, 95% confidence interval [CI]=1.04-1.23). Attitudes toward the treatment of depression changed as well, with 60% of respondents prioritizing a biological focus for treatment in 2006 compared with 48% in 1996 (RR=1.29, CI=1.04-1.59). These changes varied modestly by sociodemographic variables and were most pronounced among male, white, and elderly populations.


There have been changes in attitudes about the causes and treatments of depression among the American public in the past decade, with a shift toward a biological framework. A greater understanding of beliefs about depression may lead to more effective outreach and education efforts.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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