Psychological Medicine

Duration between onset and time of obtaining initial treatment among people with anxiety and mood disorders: an international survey of members of mental health patient advocate groups

a1 Freedom from Fear, Staten Island, NY and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY; Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; and Kent State University, Kent, OH, USA; and Fondazione IDEA, Milano, Italy


Background. Self-report data obtained from members of advocate groups for patients with anxiety or mood disorders in 11 countries were used to study time to initial professional help-seeking after incident episodes.

Method. Data were taken from 3516 self-administered questionnaires completed by members of GAMIAN, an international consortium of mental health patient advocate groups. Reports about age at onset and age at first seeking treatment were obtained retrospectively.

Results. Approximately 40% of respondents reported that they sought treatment in the same year as the first onset of their disorder. The median delay in help-seeking was 8 years for the remainder of respondents. Synthetic cohort analysis suggests that delays have decreased in recent cohorts. However, time to initial help-seeking in all cohorts and all countries was found to be inversely related to age at onset.

Conclusions. Although caution is needed in generalizing the results beyond members of patient advocate groups, the key patterns found here were also found in previous analyses of general population surveys carried out in the US and Canada. The critical and consistent finding in all these studies is that presumably curable adolescents with early-onset disorders are, in effect, ignored by the treatment system in these countries. Aggressive outreach and intervention among early-onset cases might prove to be a cost-effective approach both to prevent the onset of secondary disorders and to improve success in treating primary disorders.

c1 Address for correspondence: Dr R. C. Kessler, Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, 180 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.