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Gender-related patterns and determinants of recent help-seeking for past-year affective, anxiety and substance use disorders: findings from a national epidemiological survey

  • M. G. Harris (a1) (a2), A. J. Baxter (a1) (a2), N. Reavley (a3), S. Diminic (a1) (a2), J. Pirkis (a3) and H. A. Whiteford (a1) (a2)...

To examine: (1) gender-specific determinants of help-seeking for mental health, including health professional consultation and the use of non-clinical support services and self-management strategies (SS/SM) and; (2) gender differences among individuals with unmet perceived need for care.


Analyses focused on 689 males and 1075 females aged 16–85 years who met ICD-10 criteria for a past-year affective, anxiety or substance use disorder in an Australian community-representative survey. Two classifications of help-seeking for mental health in the previous year were created: (1) no health professional consultation or SS/SM, or health professional consultation, or SS/SM only, and; (2) no general practitioner (GP) or mental health professional consultation, or GP only consultation, or mental health professional consultation. Between- and within-gender help-seeking patterns were explored using multinomial logistic regression models. Characteristics of males and females with unmet perceived need for care were compared using chi-square tests.


Males with mental or substance use disorders had relatively lower odds than females of any health professional consultation (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 0.46), use of SS/SM only (AOR = 0.59), and GP only consultation (AOR = 0.29). Notably, males with severe disorders had substantially lower odds than females of any health professional consultation (AOR = 0.29) and GP only consultation (AOR = 0.14). Most correlates of help-seeking were need-related. Many applied to both genders (e.g., severity, disability, psychiatric comorbidity), although some were male-specific (e.g., past-year reaction to a traumatic event) or female-specific (e.g., past-year affective disorder). Certain enabling and predisposing factors increased the probability of health professional consultation for both genders (age 30+ years) or for males (unmarried, single parenthood, reliance on government pension). Males with unmet perceived need for care were more likely to have experienced a substance use disorder and to want medicine or tablets or social intervention, whereas their females peers were more likely to have experienced an anxiety disorder and to want counselling or talking therapy. For both genders, attitudinal/knowledge barriers to receiving the types of help wanted (e.g., not knowing where to get help) were more commonly reported than structural barriers (e.g., cost).


Findings suggest a need to address barriers to help-seeking in males with severe disorders, and promote GP consultation. Exploring gender-specific attitudinal/knowledge barriers to receiving help, and the types of help wanted, may assist in designing interventions to increase consultation. Mental health promotion/education efforts could incorporate information about the content and benefits of evidence-based treatments and encourage males to participate in other potentially beneficial actions (e.g., physical activity).

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: M. Harris, Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, The Park – Centre for Mental Health, Locked Bag 500, Sumner Park BC QLD 4074, Australia. (Email:
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