Open Access Research article

What makes people decide who to turn to when faced with a mental health problem? Results from a French survey

Viviane Kovess-Masféty1*, Delphine Saragoussi1, Christine Sevilla-Dedieu1, Fabien Gilbert1, Agnieszka Suchocka1, Nathalie Arveiller2, Isabelle Gasquet3, Nadia Younes2 and Marie-Christine Hardy-Bayle2

Author Affiliations

1 MGEN Foundation for Public Health; EA 4069 University of Paris 5, 3 square Max Hymans, 75748 Paris Cedex 15, France

2 Versailles Hospital, 177 rue de Versailles, 78157 Le Chesnay Cedex, France

3 Medical Policy Division (AP-HP), 3 avenue Victoria, 75184 Paris Cedex 04, France

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:188  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-188

Published: 31 July 2007



The unequal use of mental health care is a great issue, even in countries with universal health coverage. Better knowledge of the factors that have an impact on the pathway to mental health care may be a great help for designing education campaigns and for best organizing health care delivery. The objective of this study is to explore the determinants of help-seeking intentions for mental health problems and which factors influence treatment opinions and the reliance on and compliance with health professionals' advice.


441 adults aged 18 to 70 were randomly selected from the general population of two suburban districts near Paris and agreed to participate in the study (response rate = 60.4%). The 412 respondents with no mental health problems based on the CIDI-SF and the CAGE, who had not consulted for a mental health problem in the previous year, were asked in detail about their intentions to seek help in case of a psychological disorder and about their opinion of mental health treatments. The links between the respondents' characteristics and intentions and opinions were explored.


More than half of the sample (57.8%) would see their general practitioner (GP) first and 46.6% would continue with their GP for follow-up. Mental health professionals were mentioned far less than GPs. People who would choose their GP first were older and less educated, whereas those who would favor mental health specialists had lower social support. For psychotherapy, respondents were split equally between seeing a GP, a psychiatrist or a psychologist. People were reluctant to take psychotropic drugs, but looked favorably on psychotherapy.


GPs are often the point of entry into the mental health care system and need to be supported. Public information campaigns about mental health care options and treatments are needed to educate the public, eliminate the stigma of mental illness and eliminate prejudices.