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Help-seeking intentions and subsequent 12-month mental health service use in Chinese primary care patients with depressive symptoms
  1. Weng Yee Chin,
  2. Kit T Y Chan,
  3. Cindy L K Lam,
  4. T P Lam,
  5. Eric Y F Wan
  1. Department of Family Medicine and Primary Care, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  1. Correspondence to Dr Weng Yee Chin; chinwy{at}


Objective To identify the factors associated with 12-month mental health service use in primary care patients with depressive symptoms.

Design Cross-sectional followed by 12-month cohort study.

Setting and participants 10 179 adult patients were recruited from the waiting rooms of 59 primary care clinics across Hong Kong to complete a questionnaire which screened for depression. 518 screened-positive participants formed the cohort and were telephoned at 3, 6 and 12 months to monitor mental health service use.

Primary and secondary outcomes ▸ Help-seeking preferences;

▸ Intention to seek help from a healthcare professional;

▸ 12-month mental health service use.

Results At baseline, when asked who they would seek help from if they thought they were depressed, respondents preferred using friends and family (46.5%) over a psychiatrist (24.9%), psychologist (22.8%) or general practitioner (GP; 19.9%). The presence of depressive symptoms was associated with a lower intention to seek help from family and friends but had no effect on intention to seek help from a healthcare professional. Over 12 months, 24.3% of the screened-positive cohort reported receiving services from a mental health professional. Factors associated with service use included identification of depression by the GP at baseline, having a past history of depression or other mental illness, and being a public sector patient. Having a positive intention to seek professional help or more severe depressive symptoms at baseline was not associated with a greater likelihood of receiving treatment.

Conclusions Mental health service use appears to be very low in this setting with only one in four primary care patients with depressive symptoms receiving treatment from a psychiatrist, GP or psychologist over a year. To help reduce the burden of illness, better detection of depressive disorders is needed especially for patients who may be undertreated such as those with no prior diagnosis of depression and those with more severe symptoms.


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