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Open Access Research article

Social influences on mental health help-seeking after interpersonal traumatization: a qualitative analysis

Viola Schreiber1*, Andreas Maercker1 and Babette Renneberg2

Author Affiliations

1 University of Zurich, Psychopathology and Clinical Intervention, Binzmühlestraße, Zürich, Switzerland

2 Freie Universität Berlin, Department of Educational Science and Psychology, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin, Germany

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:634  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-634

Published: 22 October 2010



Despite frequent and serious mental health problems after interpersonal traumatization, only a fraction of those affected by interpersonal violence seek formal help after the event. Reasons for this mismatch can be found in the individual help-seeking process but also in the individual's social environment. These social factors are explored based on a model describing the survivor's help-seeking process.


Survivors of interpersonal traumatization and professionals providing help for this population were asked about factors influencing the ease of seeking and receiving professional help after interpersonal traumatization. A deductive and inductive content analysis of the experiences of 43 survivors of interpersonal traumatization and 16 professionals providing help for this population was carried out.


The analysis suggested a clear distinction of an individual and a social system level of influencing variables. At the system level three main factors were identified: factors of the help-system, dominant attitudes in society and public knowledge about traumatization and available help.


The results confirmed a complex interaction of variables on the individual and system level in the help-seeking process. The system level affects the individual's help-seeking through multiple pathways, especially through the individual's representation of the traumatization, through the reactions of the individual's social network and through barriers the individual perceives or experiences in the formal help-system.