Updated: Jul 6, 2019
There is obviously a huge need for mental health or mental-wellbeing services. However, even with the best services in place, people must be motivated to seek help. But, why don’t people seek help when they need it or even as a preventative measure? If you ask people who clearly need help in some capacity, many are likely to say nothing is wrong or they don’t’ need help, because they are not “crazy.” There is a misconception that getting help is only for severe mental health conditions. But that is not true. You can also seek support and take preventative measures before your situation becomes a problem. However, even when there is a crisis or major mental health concern, people will still avoid getting the help they need.
In my dissertation, I review the literature on help-seeking behavior. This includes help-seeking avoidance – why people avoid getting the help they need. According to Fripp and Carlson (2017), Haynes et al. (2017), and Vaterlaus et al. (2015) there are many reasons that people give for not seeking help when they need it—or even as a prevention:
Don’t see a problem
Fear of stigma and being shamed
Fear of being weak or dependent
Fear that people will think you are “crazy,” lack “intelligence,” or “broken”
Don’t know where to go for help or don’t have access to supports
Barriers (lack of transportation, childcare, scheduling conflicts, no insurance, or inadequate finances to pay for services)
Don’t believe therapy, counseling, or coaching works
Distrust of or maltreatment by the medical community
Members of ethnic groups or vulnerable groups often say for them the reasons why they avoid seeking help is magnified by race and gender, along with feeling their needs or concerns are not taken seriously. Members in these groups often feel they are not treated fairly, discriminated against given inadequate care, or negatively judged by medical staff (Paschal, 2015).
It is no wonder why people may avoid seeking help for mental, physical, or relationship concerns. There is a lot of shame felt by the help-seeker and the perception of being shamed by the help-giver. What do we do? As a community, we first must understand that this problem is a systemic and complex issue. Also, a solution that works in one community for one type of problem may not work in others. And, we must get over shaming people for seeking the need to get help. It is also important to engage others and collaborate on policies, standards and the types of services and supports that would benefit people. Give people a voice in their care and encourage people to seek help when they do.
Here are some ideas that could help get us on the right track:
For the medical community (hospitals, clinics, mental health institutions, doctors/family medicine; taken from some of the practices and standards of Rowan Family Medical Center in Stratford New Jersey)
develop clear policies and best practices on how the needs and care of all patients must be carried out
develop clear communication about the benefits and success of getting help and early prevention
share information with other institutions (school districts, employers) or engage in outreach or events (fairs, conferences, conventions) where you provide information on the signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, mental illness, etc.
hire and engage diversity so that patients can see more professionals that look like them
provide training on the importance and impact culture and social identity has on help-seeking behavior
develop coaching skills of doctors, nurses, medical assistances and staff to better serve patients
create services that are accessible and affordable
engage and collaborate with the community and social institutions about tools, approaches an services that can best benefit the people in the communities being serviced
For social and institutional communities (religious organizations, civic organizations, school districts, police stations, fire departments, fraternities/sororities, colleges)
develop objectivity about mental health and seeking help and allow your members and their families the space to consider what’s best for their overall needs
provide external resources for members and be a repository of information that include secular, professional, and spiritual or faith-based sources of support, according to the needs of the people you serve
provide coach training and/or coaching services, such as those that Reid Ready Life Coaching provides, to staff or ministers so that your leadership can be prepared to help individuals get the supports they need before situations become a crisis
partner with agencies, medical providers, and clinics on developing policies and services that can best support the communities and people you serve directly
help community members with identifying what their barriers are in getting the help they need, and collaborate on ways to overcome those barriers
offer wrap-around or internal support services (help-line, advisors, coaches) as a first line of support, especially for those who do not have a support network (there may be grants and government funding that can help fund your program)
For the individuals and thier loved ones (those who want or need help, but won’t get it)
take control of your wellbeing and recognize that there is a problem which needs a solution – pretending everything is ok, when it’s not, can put your mental wellbeing at risk
identify what barriers are in your way or are preventing you from getting the help you need so that you can determine the best approach and solution to overcome those barriers
reach out to your social network or support system for resources and referrals; if you do not have a social network or support system, identify how to develop one—Reid Ready Life Coaching can be a first step for you
Search the internet for different support groups, service providers, and advocates that can help you navigate institutions and find the help you need
Understand signs and symptoms of mental illness, depression, anxiety, addiction and other conditions so that you can be better equipped to find support and manage your mental wellbeing or help your loved ones
develop your awareness about resources, self-help tools and preventative methods to help you create a personal strategy for maintaining overall wellbeing
have a list of questions you want to ask your mental health provider or medical team—the more you understand yourself, your condition, and needs, the stronger you will be at advocating for yourself or your loved ones
know your rights as a patient and advocate for your care and wellbeing, if you do not know how, work with someone that can help you
ask your healthcare provider about his/her experience, education, background, and expertise in your mental illness or condition—do your research to ensure you get the care you need
request referrals for multiple providers and research them to identify which one works best for your needs
develop a complete mental and physical health care team who work together in your best interest; make sure everyone is on the same page and can collaborate on your needs and best care
The overall goal is to help people remove their barriers and fears to improve help-seeking behavior. Empower people to understand their needs and encourage them to seek help. When we work together, we can create better supports and care to ensure the wellbeing of all people by reducing the causes of help-seeking avoidance.
Coach Dawn helps women entrepreneurs create SMART-R™ goals and work-life-self harmony, while growing profitable businesses. Coach Dawn will partner with you so that you can identify how to find solutions and resources to overcome your obstacles. She also trains aspiring coaches or works with for-profit and non-profit talent management teams on developing core coaching competencies to help prepare them for a rewarding coaching career or to work SMART-R™ with their clients. To learn more, visit: www.reidreadycoaching.com.
Fripp, J. A., & Carlson, R. G. (2017). Exploring the influence of attitude and stigma on participation of African American and Latino Populations in mental health services. Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, 45(2), 80-94. doi:10.1002/jmcd.12066
Haynes, T., Cheney, A., Sullivan, J., Bryant, K., Curran, G., Olson, M., Cottoms, N., & Reaves, C. (2017). Addressing mental health needs: Perspectives of African Americans living in the rural south. Psychiatric Services, 68(6), 573-578. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201600208
Paschal, N. (2015). Slave women and the birth of gynecology. Retrieved from https://hubpages.com/politics/Slave-Women-and-the-Birth-of-Gynecology
Vaterlaus, J. M., Skogrand, L., & Chaney, C. (2015). Help-Seeking for marital problems: perceptions of individuals in strong African American marriages. Contemporary Family Therapy, 37(1), 22–32. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-014-9324-4