The relationship between public causal beliefs and social distance toward mentally ill people


  • Sandra Dietrich,

  • Michael Beck,

  • Bujana Bujantugs,

  • Denis Kenzine,

  • Herbert Matschinger,

  • Matthias C. Angermeyer

  • Matthias C. Angermeyer, Professor (Correspondence)

    Department of Psychiatry,University of Leipzig, Johannisallee 20, 04317 Leipzig, Germany. Email:

Matthias C. Angermeyer, Professor (Correspondence)


Objective:  The aim of this study is to investigate the nature of the relationship between public causal beliefs and social distance toward people with mental disorders, particularly schizophrenia and depression.

Method:  In total, three representative surveys were carried out in Germany, Russia and Mongolia using personal, fully structured interviews.

Results:  Despite the subjects’ different cultural backgrounds, their responses show similar trends with regard to attributing depression and schizophrenia to psychosocial causes: ‘acute stress’ (life event) was most frequently endorsed as the cause for these two disorders. The biological causes (‘brain disease’ and ‘heredity’) were less frequently selected for depression than for schizophrenia. Irrespective of place and type of mental disorder, endorsing biological factors as the cause of schizophrenia was associated with a greater desire for social distance, the same relationship applies to depression in half the instances.

Conclusions:  It would be premature to draw conclusions with regard to interventions aimed at reducing discrimination based on stigma. However, our study provides stimulus for re-considering the assumptions underlying antistigma interventions: that promulgating biological concepts among the public might not contribute to a desired reduction in social distance toward people with mental disorders.