Barriers to mental health care and predictors of treatment dropout in the South African stress and health study

Bruwer B. ; Sorsdahl K. ; Harrison J. ; Stein D.J. ; Williams D. ; Seedat S. (2011)


Objective: This study used data from the South African Stress and Health Study (SASH) to examine both structural and attitudinal barriers to treatment initiation among South Africans with mental disorders and to investigate predictors of treatment dropout. Methods: Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 4,315 adult South Africans living in households or hostel quarters. The interview included a core diagnostic assessment of past-12-month mental disorders and assessments of disorder severity, service use, and barriers to treatment. Multivariate logistic regression models were used to determine predictors of not seeking treatment in relation to disorder severity and sociodemographic characteristics, as well as factors that were predictive of premature treatment discontinuation by participants who had received mental health treatment in the previous 12 months. Predictors of dropout were identified by cross-tabulation and discrete-time survival analysis. Results: Of the 4,315 adults, 729 (16.9% weighted) met criteria for a mental disorder in the past 12 months. Across all levels of severity, the most frequently cited reason for not seeking professional treatment was a low perceived need for treatment. Among those who recognized the need but did not access treatment during the past 12 months (7.2%), attitudinal barriers to treatment seeking were reported more commonly than structural barriers (100% and 34%, respectively). Of the 182 respondents who received treatment (25% weighted), 20% discontinued prematurely. Various factors, such as substance use disorders and absence of health insurance, increased the odds of treatment dropout. Conclusions: Low rates of treatment seeking and high treatment dropout rates for common mental disorders among South Africans are a major concern. Public health efforts to improve treatment of mental disorders should consider the multiple influences on treatment initiation and discontinuation.

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