Australian Survey Finds Misconceptions About Depression

April 15, 2004
Tina Beychok
Volume 21, Issue 5

A recent survey of 1,200 Australians found that many respondents did not understand how best to help people with depression.

A survey conducted by the Mental Health Council of Australia (MHCA) found that one in four men thought that the best way to help out a friend with depression was to take them to the local pub for a few beers. Furthermore, the same survey found that 23% of respondents thought that telling a depressed person about their own troubles might help them put things in perspective, and one-third of respondents thought that it would be helpful to tell the depressed person to "put on a brave face." Even more troubling is that 91% of respondents felt that it would be helpful to tell someone with depression to focus on the positive things in life.

According to Grace Groom, chief executive officer of MHCA, this dismissive attitude reinforces the idea that depression is not taken seriously as a health risk. In a press statement, she said, "Asking a depressed person to cheer up or focus on the positive things in life is not helpful. It minimizes and undermines that person's illness by suggesting it is easily overcome and not a serious condition that requires professional treatment."

Knowledge about depression in children and adolescents was also lacking. One in three Australians surveyed thought that severe moodiness and irritability in young people is normal. Approximately the same number thought that depression is a normal part of growing up, and one in five thought that young people with depression or anxiety will eventually outgrow it. In addition, 86% of respondents under the age of 30 said that they would be more likely to turn to friends and family if they suffered from depression rather than seeing a medical professional. Groom suggested that these findings indicate that many children and adolescents with depression are going undetected, as their friends and family may not be aware of the danger signs or may not take them seriously.

There was some encouraging news, however, in that 91% of respondents felt that it would be helpful to include a depressed friend in social activities--TB