A systematic review of help-seeking interventions for depression, anxiety and general psychological distress

BMC Psychiatry. 2012 Jul 16;12:81. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-12-81.


Background: Depression and anxiety are treatable disorders, yet many people do not seek professional help. Interventions designed to improve help-seeking attitudes and increase help-seeking intentions and behaviour have been evaluated in recent times. However, there have been no systematic reviews of the efficacy or effectiveness of these interventions in promoting help-seeking. Therefore, this paper reports a systematic review of published randomised controlled trials targeting help-seeking attitudes, intentions or behaviours for depression, anxiety, and general psychological distress.

Methods: Studies were identified through searches of PubMed, PsycInfo, and the Cochrane database in November 2011. Studies were included if they included a randomised controlled trial of at least one intervention targeting help-seeking for depression or anxiety or general psychological distress, and contained extractable data on help-seeking attitudes or intentions or behaviour. Studies were excluded if they focused on problems or conditions other than the target (e.g., substance use, eating disorder).

Results: Six published studies of randomised controlled trials investigating eight different interventions for help-seeking were identified. The majority of trials targeted young adults. Mental health literacy content was effective (d = .12 to .53) in improving help-seeking attitudes in the majority of studies at post-intervention, but had no effect on help-seeking behaviour (d = -.01, .02). There was less evidence for other intervention types such as efforts to destigmatise or provide help-seeking source information.

Conclusions: Mental health literacy interventions are a promising method for promoting positive help-seeking attitudes, but there is no evidence that it leads to help-seeking behaviour. Further research investigating the effects of interventions on attitudes, intentions, and behaviour is required.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / therapy
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder / therapy
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Psychotherapy
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy