Background: Individuals often avoid or delay seeking professional help for mental health problems. Stigma may be a key deterrent to help-seeking but this has not been reviewed systematically. Our systematic review addressed the overarching question: What is the impact of mental health-related stigma on help-seeking for mental health problems? Subquestions were: (a) What is the size and direction of any association between stigma and help-seeking? (b) To what extent is stigma identified as a barrier to help-seeking? (c) What processes underlie the relationship between stigma and help-seeking? (d) Are there population groups for which stigma disproportionately deters help-seeking?
Method: Five electronic databases were searched from 1980 to 2011 and references of reviews checked. A meta-synthesis of quantitative and qualitative studies, comprising three parallel narrative syntheses and subgroup analyses, was conducted.
Results: The review identified 144 studies with 90,189 participants meeting inclusion criteria. The median association between stigma and help-seeking was d = - 0.27, with internalized and treatment stigma being most often associated with reduced help-seeking. Stigma was the fourth highest ranked barrier to help-seeking, with disclosure concerns the most commonly reported stigma barrier. A detailed conceptual model was derived that describes the processes contributing to, and counteracting, the deterrent effect of stigma on help-seeking. Ethnic minorities, youth, men and those in military and health professions were disproportionately deterred by stigma.
Conclusions: Stigma has a small- to moderate-sized negative effect on help-seeking. Review findings can be used to help inform the design of interventions to increase help-seeking.