The influence of stigma and attitudes on seeking help from a GP for mental health problems: a rural context

Angela Komiti, Fiona Judd, Henry Jackson
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2006, 41 (9): 738-45

BACKGROUND: Lack of mental health specialists in rural and remote communities suggest that rural communities depend more on general practitioners (GPs) for mental health care. Residents of rural communities are less likely than urban residents to seek help from their GPs for mental health issues. The aim of the current study was to examine whether attitudinal factors including perceived stigma, influenced rural residents seeking help from GPs.

METHOD: Help-seeking for psychological issues was retrospectively reported by 300 community residents in rural north-west Victoria. Current distress levels, functional disability, and current or lifetime syndromal disorder were recorded. Attitudes towards seeking professional psychological help, perceptions of stigma about mental illness, and belief in helpfulness of GPs, were also measured.

RESULTS: Having a positive attitude towards seeking professional help, and believing that a GP would be helpful, were significant predictors of ever having sought help from a GP for mental health problems. Other independent predictors of help-seeking included having a mood, anxiety or substance use disorder, higher distress levels, and greater functional disability due to physical problems.

CONCLUSIONS: Seeking help from a GP for psychological problems was predicted by having a positive attitude towards seeking professional psychological help as well as believing a GP would be helpful in treating psychological problems. Illness variables were also strong predictors of help-seeking behaviour. Contrary to expectations, perceived stigma did not influence help-seeking. The findings of this study highlight the important role of GPs in the treatment of mental health problems in the rural community.

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