Skip main navigation

How to encourage people to seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder

A range of actions at a societal and a policy level can encourage people to seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
A picture of two people holding hands.
© University of Glasgow

A range of actions at a societal and a policy level can encourage people to seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

1 Acknowledge and respect survivors of trauma

In many cultures, survivors of trauma continue to experience discrimination, stigmatization, and a lack of respect. Social support and social acknowledgment have been consistently linked to a good prognosis. Social acknowledgment can be defined as “a victim’s experience of positive reactions from the society that show appreciation of the victim’s traumatic experience and acknowledge the difficulty of their situation” (Wagner et al., 2011). Social support can be both emotional such as unconditional acceptance) and instrumental, demonstrated for example by referral to services.

2 Provide choice and flexibility

An increasing number of studies have shown that internet-based mental health interventions are effective and cost-efficient, including web-based self-help interventions. They can overcome geographical barriers and may encourage disclosure. Some patients may also benefit from alternative, non-clinical organised activities such as yoga and art therapy.

3 Involve peers and other non-professional support workers

Globally, there is a shortage of trained mental health professionals. This gap is most acute in low- and middle-income countries. The training of peers, such as persons with lived experience and other volunteers, can not only help reduce this gap but may also reduce stigma and promote hope and recovery.

4 Deliver culturally-sensitive care

In culturally sensitive mental health care, professionals seek to understand how the patient’s culture shapes the nature of their illness, help-seeking behaviours and treatment expectations. This also entails attentiveness to the patient’s life history and socio-cultural context.

As argued by Schnyder and colleagues (2016): “we cannot take for granted that all treatment-seeking trauma survivors speak our language or share our cultural values”. As a result, there is a need to acknowledge how culture-specific individual and collective meanings influence the meaning the patient attaches to a traumatic event.

Therapists should also be trained to recognise the manifestations of trauma and PTSD in different cultures, languages and age groups. A combination of these approaches can promote recovery.

5 Increase the education on, and the awareness of, PTSD

Research tends to indicate a lack of understanding of PTSD in both persons with lived experience and service providers. Efforts are needed to train physicians — including general practitioners and emergency department physicians, frontline workers, specialised health care providers — and all individuals who work in the field of mental health in PTSD to recognise when an individual may be vulnerable and offer appropriate referrals and support.

Assessment should consider the type of trauma, its severity and consequences, as well as the individual’s own life history and context. It is vital that those in the patient’s support network be educated to reduce stigma and enhance the role family members and social networks play in the help-seeking and recovery processes.


Kazlauskas, E. (2017). Challenges for providing health care in traumatized populations: Barriers for PTSD treatments and the need for new developments. Global Health Action, 10(1), 1322399.

Schnyder, U., Bryant, R. A., Ehlers, A., Foa, E. B., Hasan, A., Mwiti, G., Yule, W. (2016). Culture-sensitive psychotraumatology. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 7(1), 31179-10.

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

Wagner, B., Keller, V., Knaevelsrud, C., & Maercker, A. (2012). Social acknowledgement as a predictor of post-traumatic stress and complicated grief after witnessing assisted suicide. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 58(4), 381-385. doi:10.1177/0020764011400791

© University of Glasgow
This article is from the free online

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the Global Context

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now