James Cook University ISSN 1445-6354
Introduction: The prevalence of chronic disease, mortality and suicide rates are higher in rural Australia than they are in urban centres. Understanding rural Australians' barriers to accessing health services requires urgent attention. The purpose of this study was to compare barriers to help-seeking for physical and mental health issues among rural South Australian adults.
Methods: 409 people from three rural and remote regions in South Australia completed a computer-assisted telephone interview. They were presented a physical or mental health scenario and rated the extent to which barriers would prevent them from seeking help for that condition. Responses ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) and were averaged to form domain scores (higher scores representing stronger barriers to seeking support), in addition to being examined at the item level.
Results: Men reported higher barriers for the mental compared with physical health scenario across four domains (Need for Control and Self-reliance, Minimising the Problem, Resignation and Normalisation, Privacy, and Emotional Control). Women reported higher barriers for the mental compared to physical health scenario in two domains (Need for Control and Self-reliance; and Privacy). Both men and women endorsed many items in the mental health context (e.g. 'I don't like feeling controlled by other people', 'I wouldn't want to overreact to a problem that wasn't serious', 'Problems like this are part of life; they're just something you have to deal with', 'I'd prefer just to put up with it rather than dwell on my problems', 'Privacy is important to me, and I don't want other people to know about my problems' and 'I don't like to get emotional about things') but in the physical health context, barriers were only endorsed by men (e.g. 'I wouldn't want to overreact to a problem that wasn't serious',' I'd prefer just to put up with it rather than dwell on my problems', 'Problems like this are part of life; they're just something you have to deal with', 'I like to make my own decisions and not be too influenced by others').
Conclusions: Both rural men and rural women report more barriers to help seeking for mental health issues than physical health issues across a range of domains. There is a need to educate the current and future rural health and mental health workforce about these barriers and to encourage them to test evidence-based strategies to address them, in particular to facilitate more widespread mental health help-seeking in rural Australia.