Concepts of mental disorders in the United Kingdom: Similarities and differences between the lay public and psychiatrists

Ben Butlin, Keith Laws, Rebecca Read, Matthew D Broome, Shivani Sharma

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BACKGROUND: The lay public often conceptualise mental disorders in a different way to mental health professionals, and this can negatively impact on outcomes when in treatment.

AIMS: This study explored which disorders the lay public are familiar with, which theoretical models they understand, which they endorse and how they compared to a sample of psychiatrists.

METHODS: The Maudsley Attitude Questionnaire (MAQ), typically used to assess mental health professional's concepts of mental disorders, was adapted for use by a lay community sample (N = 160). The results were compared with a sample of psychiatrists (N = 76).

RESULTS: The MAQ appeared to be accessible to the lay public, providing some interesting preliminary findings: in order, the lay sample reported having the best understanding of depression followed by generalised anxiety, schizophrenia and finally antisocial personality disorder. They best understood spiritualist, nihilist and social realist theoretical models of these disorders, but were most likely to endorse biological, behavioural and cognitive models. The lay public were significantly more likely to endorse some models for certain disorders suggesting a nuanced understanding of the cause and likely cure, of various disorders. Ratings often differed significantly from the sample of psychiatrists who were relatively steadfast in their endorsement of the biological model.

CONCLUSION: The adapted MAQ appeared accessible to the lay sample. Results suggest that the lay public are generally aligned with evidence-driven concepts of common disorders, but may not always understand or agree with how mental health professionals conceptualise them. The possible causes of these differences, future avenues for research and the implications for more collaborative, patient-clinician conceptualisations are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)507-514
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Social Psychiatry
Issue number6
Early online date16 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


  • Lay
  • concepts
  • disorder


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