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Br J Gen Pract. 2004 Apr;54(501):248-53.

Factors influencing help seeking in mentally distressed young adults: a cross-sectional survey.

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Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Canynge Hall, Whiteladies Road, Bristol BS8 2PR, UK.



Young adults, especially men, are among those least likely to consult healthcare professionals when mentally distressed or suicidal.


To investigate the help-seeking behaviours of mentally distressed young adults.


Cross-sectional survey.


Bristol and surrounding areas, including inner-city, suburban and urban locations.


A questionnaire was sent to a sample of 3004 young adults aged 16-24 years. This assessed probable mental disorder (using the 12-item general health questionnaire [GHQ-12]), suicidal thoughts (GHQ-28 suicide subscale), and help-seeking behaviours.


Most responders who were assessed as having probable mental disorders (GHQ "cases") had not sought help. Help seeking was more common in female GHQ cases than male cases (34.8% and 21.8%,respectively; P = 0.003) and women with suicidal thoughts more commonly sought help than men with suicidal thoughts (41.6% and 30.9%, respectively; P = 0.15). Small proportions of male and female GHQ cases (7.5% and 8.9%, respectively; P = 0.6), and less than one in five responders with suicidal thoughts, had consulted a general practitioner. In more female than male cases, help was sought from family and friends (30.7% and 18.4%, respectively; P = 0.004). GHQ score was the strongest predictor of help seeking. Men had a higher threshold of severity at which they would seek help than women. Recent experience of suicidal thoughts appeared to be a stronger predictor of formal help seeking in mentally distressed women than mentally distressed men.


Distressed young adults are reluctant to seek help. Men are particularly unlikely to do so unless severely distressed and tend not to seek lay support. Sex differences in help seeking may be important in understanding the high suicide rate for men.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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