Relational barriers to depression help-seeking in primary care

Patient Educ Couns. 2011 Feb;82(2):207-13. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2010.05.007. Epub 2010 Jun 8.


Objective: To identify attitudinal and interpersonal barriers to depression care-seeking and disclosure in primary care and in so doing, evaluate the primary care paradigm for depression care in the United States.

Methods: Fifteen qualitative focus group interviews in three cities. Study participants were English-speaking men and women aged 25-64 with first-hand knowledge of depression. Transcripts were analyzed iteratively for recurring themes.

Results: Participants expressed reservations about the ability of primary care physicians (PCPs) to meet their mental health needs. Specific barriers included problems with PCP competence and openness as well as patient-physician trust. While many reflected positively on their primary care experiences, some doubted PCPs' knowledge of mental health disorders and believed mental health concerns fell outside the bounds of primary care. Low-income participants in particular shared stories about the essentiality, and ultimate fragility, of patient-PCP trust.

Conclusion: Patients with depression may be deterred from care-seeking or disclosure by relational barriers including perceptions of PCPs' mental health-related capabilities and interests.

Practice implications: PCPs should continue to develop their depression management skills while supporting vigorous efforts to inform the public that primary care is a safe and appropriate venue for treatment of common mental health conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Depression / psychology*
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Patient Preference / psychology*
  • Patient Preference / statistics & numerical data
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Psychometrics
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Perception*
  • Trust