Background: A majority of adults with common mental disorders do not seek professional help. To better understand why not, we examined the correlates of various stages of help-seeking, including perceived need for professional help, seeking such help, and from which professionals participants sought help.
Methods: The sample for this study comprised 1792 participants in the National Comorbidity Survey, conducted from 1990-1992, who were diagnosed with a 12-month DSM-III-R mood, anxiety, or substance disorder. In this sample, we assessed correlates of perceived need for professional help, seeking professional help among those with a need, and, among those who did seek professional help, seeking help from mental health professionals.
Results: Mood disorders, comorbid mood and anxiety disorders, and mental disorders associated with impairment in role functioning or suicidality were strong predictors of perceived need. Psychopathology was also associated with the decision to seek help from mental health professionals, but not with the decision to seek professional help overall. After controlling for the nature and severity of psychopathology, various sociodemographic and attitudinal factors appeared to be associated with perception of need, help-seeking, and participants' choices of professionals.
Conclusions: Unmet need for mental health care is a serious public health problem. Meeting this need requires expanding our attention beyond psychopathology to various evaluations and decisions that affect help-seeking. Our results suggest the importance of attitude and behavior change strategies in reducing the gap between need and care.