Intended for healthcare professionals

General Practice

Lay people's attitudes to treatment of depression: results of opinion poll for Defeat Depression Campaign just before its launch

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 05 October 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:858
  1. Robert G Priest, professora,
  2. Christine Vize, lecturera,
  3. Ann Roberts, senior registrara,
  4. Megan Roberts, senior registrarb,
  5. Andre Tylee, directorc
  1. a Department of Psychiatry, Imperial College School of Medicine at St Mary's, Paterson Centre, London W2 1PD,
  2. b John Connolly Unit, Ealing Hospital, Southall UB1 3EU,
  3. c Royal College of General Practitioners Unit for Mental Health, Division of General Practice and Primary Care, St George's Hospital Medical School, London SW17 0RE
  1. Correspondence and requests for reprints to: Professor Priest.
  • Accepted 17 June 1996


Objective: To investigate the attitudes of the general public towards depression before the Defeat Depression Campaign of the Royal Colleges of Psychiatrists and General Practitioners; these results form the baseline to assess the change in attitudes brought about by the campaign.

Design: Group discussions generated data for initial qualitative research. The quantitative survey comprised a doorstep survey of 2003 people in 143 places around the United Kingdom.

Results: The lay public in general seemed to be sympathetic to those with depression but reluctant to consult. Most (1704 (85%)) believed counselling to be effective but were against antidepressants. Many subjects (1563 (78%)) regarded antidepressants as addictive.

Conclusions: Although people are sympathetic towards those with depression, they may project their prejudices about depression on to the medical profession. Doctors have an important role in educating the public about depression and the rationale for antidepressant treatment. In particular, patients should know that dependence is not a problem with antidepressants.

Key messages

  • Before beginning its five year task the campaign sought opinions from 2003 members of the public

  • Most of the sample (78%) thought that antidepressants were addictive, and only 16% thought that they should be given to depressed people

  • Most patients treated with antidepressants in primary care abandon taking them prematurely; fear of dependence is one likely explanation

  • Patients should be informed clearly when antidepressants are first prescribed that discontinuing treatment in due course will not be a problem


  • Funding Defeat Depression Campaign Charity Fund.

  • Conflict of interest None.

  • Accepted 17 June 1996
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