Objective: With the exception of bereavement, the diagnosis of major depressive disorder in the DSM-IV does not take into account the context in which the symptoms occur. Recent criticism has maintained that common sense suggests making a distinction between depression as mental disorder and sorrow as 'normal' reaction to social stress. This study sets out to investigate whether the public does in fact make this distinction. Method: In spring 2009, a population-based survey was conducted by phone in the city of Vienna (n=1205). A fully structured interview was carried out which began with the presentation of a vignette describing a diagnostically unlabeled case of depression, with or without provision of information about preceding stressful life events. Results: Respondents presented with vignettes containing information on loss events were less likely to define depressive symptoms as indication of mental illness. They were also not as willing to recommend professional help. And if they were, they tended to less frequently recommend seeking help from someone with a medical background. Conclusion: In contrast to the conceptualization in the DSM-IV, the public tends to perceive depressive symptoms differently depending on the context in which they occur.
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