Most believe they may fall victim but many are reluctant to seek help.
High levels of anxiety and a reluctance to accept professional help were revealed by a national survey that also found an overwhelming majority believed they were susceptible to depression.
More than 82 per cent of respondents thought they were inclined to develop depression but at least 45 per cent refused to seek professional help, the online survey found.
The findings of the survey, conducted by World Psychiatry Association, were released on Thursday.
Nearly 13,000 people, aged mostly between 26 and 45, took part in the survey according to Si Tianmei, director of the clinical pharmacology department at the mental health institute in Peking University Hospital.
"The survey showed that the public was aware of mental disorders but misunderstandings surrounding their diagnosis and treatment were commonplace," she told China Daily.
Roughly 56 per cent of the respondents believed that depression was possible when they were sad, under stress or pessimistic.
"That means that the public has some basic ideas about symptoms of depression, mostly on the mental and emotional side," Si, who works with the association in China, explained.
But she also noted that many might confuse a depressive state with depression, a medically defined mental disorder. Without intervention, sufferers would see their social and working life deteriorate and some, about 15 per cent, would succumb to suicide, according to the association.
But a large majority, just under 74 per cent, did not know that some sufferers would display non-emotional symptoms, including physical pain for no apparent reason, sleep disorder, constipation and weight loss, it said.
A female patient in Beijing, surnamed Feng, told China Daily that it took about two years for her depression to be diagnosed.
"I began to suffer serious headaches in 2009 and tried painkillers and traditional Chinese medicine, but all in vain," she said.
"I was referred last year by a doctor to a psychiatrist who diagnosed moderate depression," Feng, 38, said.
Gu Xiuling, director of the clinical psychology department at Beijing Chaoyang Hospital, said that it took longer for Chinese patients to get a proper diagnosis, and the rate of misdiagnosis was higher, than in industrialised countries.
"A considerable number of sufferers looked elsewhere for help due to their lack of awareness,'' she said, adding that few doctors there had received training in psychiatry.
Meanwhile, "misunderstanding among the public about depression and treatment for it is also to blame", Si added.
Nearly 76 per cent of those polled thought depression could be cured by the person themselves changing certain habits or functions, and medication was not necessary, the survey found.
However, this is not just wrong but potentially dangerous.
Patients diagnosed with depression must undergo treatment, including drugs and therapy, she said.
This type of treatment is not time constrained and can last a lifetime.
About 5 to 10 per cent of Chinese people suffer from depression but only 5 per cent get the proper treatment, statistics from the Ministry of Health showed.
The subject is considered taboo and there is widespread discrimination, Si said.
"Some patients asked me to give a mild diagnosis, usually something like weak nerves and many rejected a diagnosis of depression," she said.
The survey results mirrored that.
More than 45 per cent said that they chose not to seek medical attention even if they suffered from depression and even for those willing to go, only 18 per cent would enter specialized psychiatric hospitals.
But generally, Chinese people are more aware of depression, Gu said.
In the late 1980s, "our department received seven to eight patients a day and the figure now is more than 100," she said.