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Open Access Research article

Non-professional-help-seeking among young people with depression: a qualitative study

Angel Martínez-Hernáez12*, Susan M DiGiacomo123, Natàlia Carceller-Maicas12, Martín Correa-Urquiza14 and María Antonia Martorell-Poveda14

Author Affiliations

1 Medical Anthropology Research Center, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Avinguda de Catalunya, Tarragona 35 43002, Spain

2 Department of Anthropology, Philosophy and Social Work, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Avinguda de Catalunya, Tarragona 35 43002, Spain

3 Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Machmer Hall, Amherst, MA 01003, USA

4 Department of Nursing, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Avinguda de Catalunya, Tarragona 35 43002, Spain

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BMC Psychiatry 2014, 14:124  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-14-124

Published: 28 April 2014



Adolescents and young adults often suffer from depression, but tend to avoid seeking professional help. The aim of this study was to explore the reasons for non-professional-help-seeking in a sample of young adults resident in Catalonia with depressive symptoms through a qualitative study. In addition, the subjects were invited to offer their recommendations for making mental health care services more accessible.


We recruited 105 young persons (17–21 years of age) who had participated in a national survey on adolescents. The sample was divided into thirds, with 37 who had a previous diagnosis of depression, 33 who had self-perceived emotional distress, and 35 controls. The participants were interviewed in depth about their reasons for avoiding professional mental health care services, and the interview results were analyzed using both qualitative and cultural domain techniques and corroborated through comparison with the results of three focus groups.


Participants’ reasons for avoidance varied both by gender and according to prior experience with health services. Male study participants and female controls mainly understood depressive symptoms as normal and therefore not requiring treatment. Female participants with self-perceived distress were more likely to cite problems of access to treatment and fear of speaking to an unknown person about their problems. Females with a diagnosis expressed lack of trust in the benefits of treatment and fear of the social consequences of help-seeking. In their recommendations for best practices, the study participants suggested educational initiatives, as well as changes in the organization of mental health care services.


A better understanding of the views of young people and a greater effort to involve them as active participants is important for facilitating help-seeking in this age group, and for adapting mental health care services to adolescent users and their social context.