Conceptual measurement framework for help-seeking for mental health problems
Debra Rickwood, Kerry Thomas
Faculty of Health, University of Canberra, ACT, Australia
Background: Despite a high level of research, policy, and practice interest in help-seeking for mental health problems and mental disorders, there is currently no agreed and commonly used definition or conceptual measurement framework for help-seeking.
Methods: A systematic review of research activity in the field was undertaken to investigate how help-seeking has been conceptualized and measured. Common elements were used to develop a proposed conceptual measurement framework.
Results: The database search revealed a very high level of research activity and confirmed that there is no commonly applied definition of help-seeking and no psychometrically sound measures that are routinely used. The most common element in the help-seeking research was a focus on formal help-seeking sources, rather than informal sources, although studies did not assess a consistent set of professional sources; rather, each study addressed an idiosyncratic range of sources of professional health and community care. Similarly, the studies considered help-seeking for a range of mental health problems and no consistent terminology was applied. The most common mental health problem investigated was depression, followed by use of generic terms, such as mental health problem, psychological distress, or emotional problem. Major gaps in the consistent measurement of help-seeking were identified.
Conclusion: It is evident that an agreed definition that supports the comparable measurement of help-seeking is lacking. Therefore, a conceptual measurement framework is proposed to fill this gap. The framework maintains that the essential elements for measurement are: the part of the help-seeking process to be investigated and respective time frame, the source and type of assistance, and the type of mental health concern. It is argued that adopting this framework will facilitate progress in the field by providing much needed conceptual consistency. Results will then be able to be compared across studies and population groups, and this will significantly benefit understanding of policy and practice initiatives aimed at improving access to and engagement with services for people with mental health concerns.
Keywords: help-seeking, mental health problem, mental disorder, service use, measurement, systematic review
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