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Structural barriers to help-seeking in first-episode psychosis: A systematic review and thematic synthesis.

AIM: Access to timely treatment is key to early intervention in psychosis. Despite this, barriers to treatment exist. In this review, we aimed to understand the structural barriers that patients and caregivers face in help-seeking for first-episode psychosis, and the recommendations provided to address these.

METHODS: We conducted a systematic review (PROSPERO: CRD42021274609) of qualitative studies reporting structural barriers to help-seeking from the patient or caregiver perspective. Searches were performed in September 2023, restricted to studies published from 2001. Study quality was appraised using Critical Appraisal Skills Programme. Data were analysed using thematic synthesis.

RESULTS: Nineteen papers from 11 countries were included. Across all papers, participants reported experiencing structural barriers to receiving healthcare. For many patients and caregivers, the process of accessing healthcare is complex. Access requires knowledge and resources from parents, caregivers and healthcare providers, yet too often there is a misalignment between patients' needs and service resources. Expertise amongst healthcare providers vary and some patients and caregivers experience negative encounters in healthcare. Patients highlighted earlier caregiver involvement and greater peer support as potential routes for improvement.

CONCLUSION: Patients and caregivers face multiple structural barriers, with legislative practices that discourage family involvement, and healthcare and transport costs found to be particularly problematic. Understanding these barriers can facilitate the co-design of both new and existing services to provide easier access for patients and caregivers. Further research is needed focusing not only on the perspectives of patients and caregivers who have accessed professional help but also crucially on those who have not.

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