Due to the social stigma associated with mental illness, to avoid the sigma, individuals with mental illness opt to seek help from variety of sources before eventually accessing professional mental health care. This study investigated the help-seeking behaviours, delays to psychiatric care and the association between help-seeking pattern and sociodemographic characteristics of mentally-ill patients visiting a teaching hospital in Lagos.
Methods: A total number of 94 patients seen at the outpatient's clinic of the department of psychiatry of Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos, Nigeria for the first time were recruited for the study. They were interviewed with the ICD-10 and World Health Organization Pathway Encounter Form for psychiatric care.
Results: Three major help-seeking gateways to professional psychiatric care were identified. Majority of the participants 63% patronised the indirect routes while about one third 37.3% sought for direct professional psychiatric care. Depression and schizophrenia were the commonest diagnoses. The delays ranged from 3 weeks to 44 weeks for those that patronised the direct route and 2 weeks to 416 weeks for participants who utilised the indirect routes. Depression (X2=0.03, p=0.84), schizophrenia (X2=0.39, p= 0.53), neurotic disorder (X2=0.46, p= 0.49), and mania (X2=1.29; p= 0.25) were more prevalent in females although the relationship between the sex distribution were not statistically significant.
Conclusion: The help-seeking behaviours of mentally-ill patients in Lagos Nigeria were predominantly the indirect routes. There is an urgent need for regular public education, advocacy and awareness mental health campaigns to provide knowledge about the aetiologies of mental illness to further to reduce the social stigma associated with mental illness. The local, state and federal governments of Nigeria should as a matter of urgency integrate mental healthcare into primary healthcare.