Child and adolescent mental health problems are common in primary care.
However, few parents of children with mental health problems express concerns
about these problems during consultations.
To explore the factors influencing parental help-seeking for children with
emotional or behavioural difficulties.
Focus group discussions with 34 parents from non-specialist community
settings who had concerns about their child’s mental health. All groups
were followed by validation groups or semi-structured interviews.
Most children had clinically significant mental health symptoms or
associated impairment in function. Appointment systems were a key barrier, as
many parents felt that short appointments did not allow sufficient time to
address their child’s difficulties. Continuity of care and trusting
relationships with general practitioners (GPs) who validated their concerns
were perceived to facilitate help-seeking. Parents valued GPs who showed an
interest in their child and family situation. Barriers to seeking help
included embarrassment, stigma of mental health problems, and concerns about
being labelled or receiving a diagnosis. Some parents were concerned about
being judged a poor parent and their child being removed from the family
should they seek help.
Primary healthcare is a key resource for children and young people with
emotional and behavioural difficulties and their families. Primary care
services should be able to provide ready access to health professionals with
an interest in children and families and appointments of sufficient length so
that parents feel able to discuss their mental health concerns.