People with depression often seek help from family and friends and public health campaigns frequently encourage such help seeking behaviours. However, there has been little systematically collected empirical data concerning the effects of such informal help seeking. The current study sought to investigate the views of consumers about the advantages and disadvantages of seeking support from family and friends for depression.
Participants were the subset of 417 respondents to a survey, sent to 7000 randomly selected members of an Australian electoral community, who indicated that they had sought help for depression from family or friends. One item on the survey asked participants to indicate the advantages or disadvantages of seeking help from family or friends. A coding system was developed based on a content analysis of the responses to the item. Each of the responses was then coded by two raters.
Respondents identified both advantages and disadvantages of seeking support from friends. The most commonly cited advantage was social support (n = 282) including emotional support (n = 154), informational support (n = 93), companionship support (n = 36) and instrumental support (n = 23). Other advantages related to family's or friend's background knowledge of the person and their circumstances (n = 72), the opportunity to offload the burden associated with depression (n = 62), the personal attributes of family and friends (n = 49), their accessibility (n = 36), and the opportunity to educate family and friends and increase their awareness about the respondent's depression (n = 30). The most commonly cited disadvantages were stigma (n = 53), inappropriate support (n = 45), the family member's lack of knowledge, training and expertise (n = 32) and the adverse impact of the help seeking on the family/friend (n = 20) and the relationship (n = 18).
Family and friends are well placed to provide support which consumers perceive to be positive and which can assist them in obtaining formal mental health treatment. However, the input of some family members may be unhelpful or toxic. There may be benefits in undertaking community education and destigmatisation programs which target carers.