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Why wait? Reasons for delay and prompts to seek help for mental health problems in an Australian clinical sample

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The initial delay to seek treatment accounts for a significant proportion of the unmet need for treatment of common psychiatric conditions. This study aimed to examine the barriers to initial help-seeking and factors that facilitate help-seeking for anxiety and depression.


Help-seeking history was retrospectively self-reported by 233 patients at a specialist anxiety clinic, all of whom had delayed seeking professional treatment for at least one month. Data gathered included age at onset, age at help-seeking, primary reason for the delay, prompt to seek help and first professional contacted.


The most frequently endorsed reasons for the delay related to lack of knowledge about mental illness or available treatment. Increasing illness severity or disability was the primary prompt to seek help for the majority of respondents. Reason for the delay showed some relationship with length of the delay, but prompt to seek help did not. A general medical practitioner (GP) was the first professional contacted in 71% of cases.


Lack of public ‘mental health literacy’ contributes to slow problem recognition. Increasing illness severity eventually facilitates problem recognition and prompts help-seeking. Structural barriers to initial help-seeking are relatively unimportant within the Australian health care system. General practitioners play an important role as gate-keepers to appropriate mental health care.

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Correspondence to Caroline Hunt.

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Thompson, A., Hunt, C. & Issakidis, C. Why wait? Reasons for delay and prompts to seek help for mental health problems in an Australian clinical sample. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 39, 810–817 (2004).

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