Perceived stigma and mental health care seeking

Ezra Golberstein, Daniel Eisenberg, Sarah E Gollust
Psychiatric Services: a Journal of the American Psychiatric Association 2008, 59 (4): 392-9

OBJECTIVE: There is limited empirical evidence on the extent to which perceived public stigma prevents individuals from using mental health services, despite substantial recent policy interest in this issue. This study investigated associations between perceived public stigma and mental health care seeking.

METHODS: This study used cross-sectional survey data from a representative sample of undergraduate and graduate students (N=2,782) at one university. A five-item scale was used to assess perceived public stigma toward mental health service use. Perceived need for help in the past 12 months and current presence of depressive and anxiety disorders were also assessed.

RESULTS: Perceived stigma was higher among males, older students, Asian and Pacific Islanders, international students, students with lower socioeconomic status backgrounds, and students with current mental health problems. Perceived stigma was also higher among those without any family members or friends who had used mental health services and among those who believed that therapy or medication is not very helpful. Perceived stigma was negatively associated with the likelihood of perceiving a need for mental health services, but only among younger students. Among those with probable depressive or anxiety disorders, there was no evidence that perceived stigma was associated with service use.

CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that, at least in this population, perceived stigma may not be as important a barrier to mental health care as the mental health policy discourse currently assumes.

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