Some People May Need it, But Not Me, Not Now: Seeking Professional Help for Mental Health Problems in Urban China

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


In recent years, various levels of the Chinese government have undertaken the task of developing new models of community-based mental health services. Greater availability and higher quality will not result in substantial improvements if those suffering from mental illnesses do not use the services. This article examines not only people’s cultural perception of mental health and help-seeking but also their practical concerns and preferences about mental health service provision in urban China. The study analyzes qualitative data from in-depth interviews with 50 respondents who belong to the most psychologically distressed subgroup (with the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10) score ≥ 25) identified in a household survey in Beijing. While stigma about mental illness and help-seeking is real and well described, most interviewees are also not aware of the availability of professional mental health services. They believe that professional services target the upper-middle and upper classes, and are outside the sphere of their daily life and socio-economic status. The interviewees do not welcome the prospect of a mental health clinic or treatment center in their neighborhood due to concerns about stigma and confidentiality; instead, they support the creation of mental health referral services and promotion programs within the community or on the Internet. The findings suggest that the development of community-based mental health services in mainland China should take into account not only the cultural constraints that make people reluctant to seek professional help but also the structural inadequacies that deter potential user groups from accessing such services.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)754-774
Number of pages21
JournalTranscultural Psychiatry
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • barrier
  • China
  • help-seeking
  • mental health
  • mixed methods
  • professional service

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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