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Seeking Help in the Community

Seeking informal and formal help for mental health problems in the community: a secondary analysis from a psychiatric morbidity survey in South London (2014)


J. Brown, S. Evans-Lecko, L. Aschan, M. Henderson, S. Hatch and M. Hotopf



Only 30-35% of people with mental health problems seek help from professionals. Informal help, usually from friends, family and religious leaders, is often sought but is under-researched. This study aimed to contrast patterns of informal and formal help-seeking using data from a community psychiatric morbidity survey (n=1692) (South East London Community Health (SELCOH) Study).

How was the study conducted?

Patterns of help-seeking were analysed by clinical, sociodemographic and socioeconomic indicators. Factors associated with informal and formal help-seeking were investigated using logistic regression. Cross-tabulations examined informal help-seeking patterns from different sources.

What did we find?

‘Cases’ (n = 386) were participants who had scores of ≥ 12 on the Revised Clinical Interview Schedule (CIS-R), indicating a common mental disorder. Of these, 40.1% had sought formal help, (of whom three-quarters (29%) had also sought informal help), 33.6% had sought informal help only and only 26.3% had sought no help. When controlling for non-clinical variables, severity, depression, suicidal ideas, functioning and longstanding illnesses were associated with formal rather than informal help-seeking. Age and ethnic group influenced sources of informal help used. Younger people most frequently sought informal help only whereas older people tended to seek help from their family. There were ethnic group differences in whether help was sought from friends, family or religious leaders.


This study has shown how frequently informal help is used, whether in conjunction with formal help or not. Among the ‘cases’, over 60% had sought informal help, whether on its own or together with formal help. Severity was associated with formal help-seeking. Patterns of informal help use have been found. The use and effectiveness of informal help merit urgent research.


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