JOURNAL ARTICLE

Self-reported contacts for mental health problems by rural residents: predicted service needs, facilitators and barriers

Tonelle E Handley, Frances J Kay-Lambkin, Kerry J Inder, Terry J Lewin, John R Attia, Jeffrey Fuller, David Perkins, Clare Coleman, Natasha Weaver, Brian J Kelly
BMC Psychiatry 2014, 14: 249
25193400

BACKGROUND: Rural and remote Australians face a range of barriers to mental health care, potentially limiting the extent to which current services and support networks may provide assistance. This paper examines self-reported mental health problems and contacts during the last 12 months, and explores cross-sectional associations between potential facilitators/barriers and professional and non-professional help-seeking, while taking into account expected associations with socio-demographic and health-related factors.

METHODS: During the 3-year follow-up of the Australian Rural Mental Health Study (ARMHS) a self-report survey was completed by adult rural residents (N = 1,231; 61% female; 77% married; 22% remote location; mean age = 59 years), which examined socio-demographic characteristics, current health status factors, predicted service needs, self-reported professional and non-professional contacts for mental health problems in the last 12 months, other aspects of help-seeking, and perceived barriers.

RESULTS: Professional contacts for mental health problems were reported by 18% of the sample (including 14% reporting General Practitioner contacts), while non-professional contacts were reported by 16% (including 14% reporting discussions with family/friends). Perceived barriers to health care fell under the domains of structural (e.g., costs, distance), attitudinal (e.g., stigma concerns, confidentiality), and time commitments. Participants with 12-month mental health problems who reported their needs as met had the highest levels of service use. Hierarchical logistic regressions revealed a dose-response relationship between the level of predicted need and the likelihood of reporting professional and non-professional contacts, together with associations with socio-demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, relationships, and financial circumstances), suicidal ideation, and attitudinal factors, but not geographical remoteness.

CONCLUSIONS: Rates of self-reported mental health problems were consistent with baseline findings, including higher rural contact rates with General Practitioners. Structural barriers displayed mixed associations with help-seeking, while attitudinal barriers were consistently associated with lower service contacts. Developing appropriate interventions that address perceptions of mental illness and attitudes towards help-seeking is likely to be vital in optimising treatment access and mental health outcomes in rural areas.

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