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State of the art of population-based attitude research on mental health: a systematic review

  • M. C. Angermeyer (a1) and G. Schomerus (a2) (a3)



Population surveys have become a frequently used method to explore stigma, help-seeking and illness beliefs related to mental illness. Methodological quality however differs greatly between studies, and our current knowledge seems heavily biased towards high-income countries. A critical appraisal of advances and shortcomings of psychiatric attitude research is missing. This review summarises and appraises the state of the art in population-based attitude research on mental health.


Systematic review of all peer-reviewed papers reporting representative population studies on beliefs and attitudes about mental disorders published between January 2005 and December 2014 (n = 478).


Over the decade covered by this review considerably more papers on psychiatric attitude research have been published than over the whole time period before. Most papers originated in Europe (36.3%), North America (23.2%) and Australia (22.6%), only 14.6% of all papers included data from low- or middle income countries. The vast majority of papers (80.1%) used correlational cross-sectional analyses, only 4% used experimental or quasi-experimental designs. Data in 45.9% of all papers were obtained with face-to-face interviews, followed by telephone (34.5%), mail (7.3%) and online surveys (4.0%). In almost half of papers (44.6%) case-vignettes served as stimulus for eliciting responses from interviewees. In 20.7% instruments meeting established psychometric criteria were used. The most frequently studied disorder was depression (44.6% of all paper), followed by schizophrenia (33%). 11.7% of papers reported time trend analyses of attitudes and beliefs, 7.5% cross-cultural comparisons. The most common focus of research was on mental health literacy (in total 63.4% of all papers, followed by various forms of stigma (48.3%).There was a scarcity of papers (12.1%) based on established theoretical frameworks.


In the current boom of attitude research, an avant-garde of studies uses profound and innovative methodology, but there are still blind spots and a large proportion of conventional studies. We discuss current and future methodological challenges that psychiatric attitude research needs to embrace. More innovative and methodologically sound studies are needed to provide an empirical basis for evidence-based interventions aimed at reducing misconceptions about mental disorders and improve attitudes towards those afflicted.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: M. C. Angermeyer, Untere Zeile 13, A-3482 Gösing am Wagram, Austria. (Email:


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State of the art of population-based attitude research on mental health: a systematic review

  • M. C. Angermeyer (a1) and G. Schomerus (a2) (a3)


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