Exploring adolescents’ causal beliefs about depression: A qualitative study with implications for prevention

Kathryn E. Cairns, Marie B.H. Yap, Alyssia Rossetto, Pamela D. Pilkington, Anthony F. Jorm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: This study qualitatively explored adolescents’ causal beliefs about depression. Method: Semi-structured focus groups were conducted with 38 Australian secondary students (25 females, 13 males) aged 15–17 years. Adolescents were asked an open-ended question about the causes of depression, followed by a series of prompts about common causes of illness. A deductive thematic analysis was conducted to identify themes within the data set. Results: Participants emphasised potentially mutable psychosocial causes of depression (e.g., exposure to stressors, lifestyle) over biogenetic factors (e.g., genetics, chemical imbalance). Stigmatising explanations of depression were rare, although a minority gave explanations broadly consistent with a ‘weak not sick’ stigmatising attitude. Conclusion: The findings suggest that adolescents perceived depression causation to be complex and multifactorial. Understanding the causal beliefs that are most salient amongst adolescents can inform messaging in relation to efforts to prevent depression at this time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-61
Number of pages7
JournalMental Health & Prevention
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • Attitudes
  • Causal beliefs
  • Depression
  • Mental health literacy
  • Youth

Cite this