To determine the prevalence and sociodemographic correlates of negative attitudes toward help seeking for mental illness among the general population in the United States and Ontario.
Two contemporaneous population-based surveys (aged 15 to 54 years) were analyzed: the US National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) (n = 5877) and the Ontario Health Survey (OHS) (n = 6902). Multiple logistic regression analyses were used to examine the correlates of a derived negative attitudes composite variable obtained from questions assessing probability, comfort, and embarrassment related to help seeking for mental illness.
Negative attitudes toward help seeking for mental illness were prevalent in both countries. Fifteen percent of OHS and 20% of NCS respondents stated they probably or definitely would not seek treatment if they had serious emotional problems. Almost one-half of recipients in both surveys stated they would be embarrassed if their friends knew about their use of mental health services. Negative attitudes toward help seeking were highest among socioeconomically challenged young, single, lesser-educated men in Ontario and the United States. In both countries, substance abuse or dependence and antisocial personality disorder were associated with greater negative attitudes, as was not having sought treatment in the past.
Negative attitudes toward mental health service use are prevalent in Ontario and the United States. They are most common in young adults, especially those with lower education and socioeconomic resources, and those with substance abuse or dependence problems. This information can be used to target educational efforts aimed at improving willingness to seek care for mental health problems.