How help-seeking preferences impact the support received and the levels of psychological distress

Help-seeking preferences in Australian mental health website visitors: A latent profile analysis

by Christopher Rainbow, Peter A Baldwin, Warwick Hosking, and Grant Blashki

Published 12 April 2023

What's the issue?

In Australia, levels of psychological distress have been increasing over the past decade, with data showing an increase in mental health concerns and suicide deaths. The increase highlights the importance of understanding how people experiencing mental health concerns, suicidal thoughts, or distress seek help.

To date, evidence around people’s help-seeking preferences has been mixed.

Some studies have found that individuals experiencing psychological distress and suicidal thoughts have low help-seeking intentions. Other research suggests the severity of suicidal thoughts is associated with people seeking professional rather than informal support. Yet other research has demonstrated a preference for informal support, or no preference between informal or professional support.

What was done?

Beyond Blue is Australia's largest mental health organisation, which offers a variety of information and support via the organisation's website. Researchers invited users of the Beyond Blue website to complete an online survey with the aim of better understanding help-seeking preferences.

Researchers used a latent profile analysis approach. This approach identifies subpopulations within a population based on certain variables.

The survey included three key areas of exploration:

  • Help-seeking intentions: Help-seeking intentions were measured by using the General Help Seeking Questionnaire (GHSQ). This popular validated measure seeks to capture differences in help-seeking preferences by asking people to rate their likelihood of seeking help for a personal or emotional problem from various sources, including family, friends, health professionals or anyone at all.
  • Psychological distress screening: The K10 measure of psychological distress was used.
  • Demographic information: Information was collected about the participant's age, gender, country of birth, language spoken at home, sexual orientation, place of residence, relationship and employment status.
What was found?

The research identified four help-seeker groups: help-negaters, professional help-seekers, family help-seekers and help-affirmatives.

Help-negaters were the least likely to consider seeking help from any source and recorded the highest levels of psychological distress and suicidal thoughts. They were also more likely to be younger and consisted of 42% of the sample. These respondents had a preference not to seek help at all.

Professional help-seekers preferred to seek support from doctors, mental health professionals or phone helplines for their concerns.

Family help-seekers preferred to seek support from family sources, such as parents or relatives. This group reported the lowest levels of suicidal thoughts and psychological distress, which may explain their preference for informal help-seeking. Alternatively, it may suggest therapeutic value in the support they already received from family members.

Help affirmatives were the most likely to seek help from any source, particularly from religious leaders, and were more likely to speak a language other than English at home.

Why are findings important?

It is important to understand the help-seeking preferences of people experiencing mental health concerns or suicidal thoughts, particularly with the results showing that 42% of the sample preferred not to seek help.

Understanding the help-seeking preferences may help health professionals ensure supports are tailored to the individual needs of their clients.

A greater understanding of preferences can help health practitioners, and organisations provide better support catered to individual preferences they are comfortable accessing.

When creating mental health services, outreach supports, and education materials, it is important to take into account different help-seeking preferences.