Assessing Mental Health Literacy of First- and Third-Year Medical Students : Knowledge and Beliefs About Mental Disorders
Date of Submission
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
Robert A. DiTomasso, Ph.D., ABPP
Steven Godin, Ph.D., M.P.H., Chairperson
Barbara S. Golden, Psy.D., ABPP
Ruth D. Thornton, Ph.D.
Mental health literacy is the knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders that influence their identification, treatment, and prevention. It is highly pertinent for the primary care physician to possess appropriate mental health literacy, because it is in that sector that the majority of individuals first seek treatment. As many as 90% of individuals who experience symptoms of a mental disorder are first seen by their primary care physician. However, general practitioners often do not detect or diagnose the presence of a mental disorder, and as many as 50% of these disorders remain unidentified and untreated. This study explored the mental health literacy of first-year and third-year medical students to assess their knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders. Medical students were required to read vignettes describing an individual who was experiencing symptoms of "stress" or a "mental disorder," and to indicate a diagnosis. It was hypothesized that: a) third-year medical students would have a significantly greater number of accurate diagnoses; b) the male-gendered vignettes would be significantly underdiagnosed by first-year-medical students; c) the female-gendered vignette describing stress would be significantly overdiagnosed as a mental disorder by first-verses third-year medical students; and d) third-year medical students would report significantly less mental health stigma. Results of this study found evidence that third-year medical students were better able to accurately diagnose a mental disorder as compared to first-year medical students after reading a vignette that described an individual experiencing symptoms of a mental disorder. The male-gendered vignettes were not significantly underdiagnosed by first-verses third-year medical students, and the female-gendered vignette depicting stress was not significantly overdiagnosed as a mental disorder by first-verses third-year medical students. Third-year medical students overdiagnosed the female-gendered stress vignette, while first-year medical students "underdiagnosed" the female-gendered generalized anxiety disorder vignette. The use of vignettes that describe individuals with symptoms of mental disorders appears to be a valid and reliable method of assessing mental health literacy. In addition, agreements and statistically significant differences are reported regarding prognosis, stigma, and the helpfulness of various interventions. Limitations and implications for future research are discussed.
Cheslock, Patricia A., "Assessing Mental Health Literacy of First- and Third-Year Medical Students : Knowledge and Beliefs About Mental Disorders" (2005). PCOM Psychology Dissertations. 28.