Help-seeking in the event of psychological distress: a qualitative exploration

Brown, Susan (2013) Help-seeking in the event of psychological distress: a qualitative exploration. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis explores the seeking of help from a General Practitioner in the event of psychological distress. The study explores help-seeking, lay understanding around mental health, and the relationship between the two.


Help-seeking has been shown to vary according to different demographic factors, and is not necessarily correlated with need. Frequently, those who need help most do not seek it, whilst those with low need are more likely to enter care; help-seeking is complex, and there is value in understanding more about current patterns. Lay knowledge is perceived as playing a crucial role in help-seeking, providing rationale for examining the two alongside each other.


Qualitative interviews were used to explore the stories of people who have recently sought help, alongside interviews from a group of ‘lay’ participants who discuss distress, help-seeking and mental health more generally. 20 interviews were carried out, analysed using a combination of thematic analysis and the process of analytic induction.


The thesis sheds light on the limited role of lay knowledge; its role is most evident when considering hypothetical help-seeking. For recent help-seekers, journeys towards care were mediated by factors pertaining to their wider lives; help-seeking was intimately related to their context. Help-seeking is the outcome of a complex interplay of factors and the study sheds light on aspects of individuals’ stories that render distress more or less likely to enter Primary Care. The process of medicalisation is illuminated, for example, individuals receiving care for physical health problems are particularly prone to their distress being medicalised. Findings lend support to a contextually-rooted approach to understanding help-seeking. Expectations of – and preferences for – care are explored, evidencing a need for General Practitioners to consider referral to self-help and/or support groups within the community; individuals may not necessarily be seeking a medicalised response.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Shaw, I.
Middleton, H.C.
Keywords: help-seeking, psychological distress, mental health, illness behaviour, lay understanding
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA 421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
H Social sciences > HM Sociology
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Sociology and Social Policy
Item ID: 13319
Depositing User: EP, Services
Date Deposited: 21 Oct 2013 09:21
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2017 19:14

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