To assess the associations between beliefs about the dangerousness of people with mental health problems and exposure to media reports of violence or personal experiences of fear, threat or harm.Telephone interviews were carried out with 5220 Australians aged 18+. Respondents heard a vignette of a person with depression or early schizophrenia and were asked whether they believed him to be dangerous. Other questions covered past 12-month recall of media reports of violence and mental health problems, contact with and experiences of fear, threat or harm by people with mental health problems. Multinomial logistic regression was used to assess the associations between beliefs about dangerousness and media and these types of contact with people with mental health problems.For the early schizophrenia vignette, recall of media reports and having felt afraid of someone were associated with beliefs about dangerousness. For the depression vignette, media reports about violence and mental health problems or the experiences of feeling afraid or having been threatened or harmed were not strongly associated with beliefs about dangerousness. For both vignettes, knowing someone with a mental health problem and having a higher level of education were associated with less belief in dangerousness.Media reports may play a greater role in forming attitudes in low prevalence disorders and further efforts to reduce any adverse impact of media reporting should focus on these disorders. The study also supports the effectiveness of contact with people with mental health problems in reducing beliefs about dangerousness.