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What stops people seeking help for PTSD?

Accessing timely and appropriate professional support for PTSD is among the most significant barriers to effective treatment and recovery.
© University of Glasgow

Accessing timely and appropriate professional support for PTSD is among the most significant barriers to effective treatment and recovery. However, it is commonly recognised that individuals with PTSD symptoms often do not seek professional help.

Help-seeking for mental health difficulties is a complex process and tends to be influenced by a range of factors, including knowledge, expectations and attitudes, demographic characteristics, sociocultural factors and others.

Ten barriers or facilitators to help-seeking

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Ten barriers or facilitators to help-seeking shown.

Ten principal barrier and facilitator themes

A recent systematic review identified ten principal barrier and facilitator themes (Smith et al., 2020). These are summarised in the table below.

Trauma-related Core PTSD symptoms can make seeking help difficult. Some examples are avoidance of trauma-related thoughts, feelings or memories that may trigger distress.
Treatment Examples include:
– scepticism about treatment choice and effectiveness;
– viewing treatment as something reserved for those who are ‘needy’ or ‘weak’;
– a negative attitude towards psychiatric and pharmacological treatments.
Therapist or provider For example, unhelpful, rude or insensitive service providers.
Knowledge Lack of knowledge and understanding of PTSD or of related services.
Access These barriers could include affordability of care, time commitment issues or health insurance.
Healthcare system For example, limited funding for PTSD care or uncoordinated services.
Sociocultural environment These may include:
– anticipated stigma such as being afraid of what others might think;
– societal stigma towards mental health service-users;
– gender expectations, for example, masculinity norms.
Values, beliefs, and priorities For example, the belief that one can manage on their own.
Past experiences Negative prior experiences with unhelpful services.
Medical care needs and illness burden For example, poorer support options for people with co-occurring conditions such as physical health problems.

It is important to note that the majority of studies included in this review originate from Western countries. Therefore, the findings may not be applicable across cultures. Make some personal notes about how cultural beliefs and attitudes could enable or impede help-seeking for this condition.


Smith, J. R., Workneh, A., & Yaya, S. (2020). Barriers and facilitators to Help‐Seeking for individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder: A systematic review. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 33(2), 137-150. doi:10.1002/jts.22456

© University of Glasgow
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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the Global Context

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