Our latest study on beliefs about causes of depression

Beliefs of people taking antidepressants about causes of depression and reasons for increased prescribing rates
Journal of Affective Disorders 168 (2014) 236–242

John Read, Claire Cartwright, Kerry Gibson, Christopher Shiels, Nicholas Haslam

Background: Public beliefs about the causes of mental health problems are related to desire for distance and pessimism about recovery, and are therefore frequently studied. The beliefs of people receiving treatment are researched less often.

Method: An online survey on causal beliefs about depression and experiences with antidepressants was completed by 1,829 New Zealand adults prescribed anti-depressants in the preceding five years, 97.4% of whom proceeded to take antidepressants.

Results: The most frequently endorsed of 17 causal beliefs were family stress, relationship problems, loss of loved one, financial problems, isolation, and abuse or neglect in childhood. Factor analysis produced three factors: ‘Bio-Genetic’, ‘Adulthood Stress’ and ‘Childhood Adversity’. The most strongly endorsed explanations for increases in antidepressant prescribing invoked improved identification, reduced stigma and drug company marketing. The least strongly endorsed was ‘Anti-depressants are the best treatment’. Regression analyses revealed that self-reported efficacy of the antidepressants was positively associated with bio-genetic causal beliefs, negatively associated with childhood adversity beliefs and unrelated to adulthood stress beliefs. The belief that ‘People can’t get better by themselves even if they try’ was positively associated with bio-genetic beliefs.

Limitations: The convenience sample may have been biased towards a favourable view of bio-genetic explanations, since 83% reported that the medication reduced their depression.

Conclusions: Clinicians’ should consider exploring patients’ causal beliefs. The public, even when taking antidepressants, continues to hold a multi-factorial causal model of depression with a primary emphasis on psycho-social causes. A three factor model of those beliefs may lead to more sophisticated understandings of relationships with stigma variables.

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