Understanding the public’s profile of mental health literacy in China: a nationwide study

Huang, Debbie; Yang, Lawrence H.; Pescosolido, Bernice A.

In the wake of China’s massive economic development, attention has only recently turned to the enormous treatment gap that exists for mental health problems. Our study is the first comprehensive, national examination of the levels and correlates of the public’s ability to recognize mental illness in the community and suggest sources of help, setting a baseline to assess contemporary Chinese efforts.

Data were collected in China as part of the Stigma in Global Context – Mental Health Study (SGC-MHS) through face-to-face interviews using vignettes meeting clinical criteria for schizophrenia and major depression. Our analysis targets the Han Chinese participants (n = 1812). Differences in the recognition of mental health problems were assessed using a chi-square test and further stratified by vignette illness type and urban vs. rural residence. Adjusted regression models estimated the effects of each predictor towards the endorsement three types of help-seeking: medical doctor, psychiatrist, and mental health professional.

As expected, recognition of mental health problems is low; it is better for depression and most accurate in urban areas. Perceived severity increases endorsement of the need for care and for treatment by all provider types. Recognition of a mental health problem specifically decreases endorsement of medical doctors while increasing recommendations for psychiatrists and mental health professionals. Neurobiological attributions decrease recommendations for mental health professionals as opposed to general or specialty physicians.

Continued efforts are needed in China to promote mental illness recognition within rural areas, and of schizophrenia specifically. Promoting recognition of mental illness, while balancing the special challenges among individuals who understand the neurobiological roots of mental illness, may constitute a key strategy to reduce the sizeable mental health treatment gap in China.

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April 22, 2019


Global mental health, Mental health literacy, Mental health recognition, Psychiatric epidemiology, Mental health service-use