• Dr Emily Barney

Barriers to accessing mental health services: Part 1: Symptoms

As a provider of mental health services we are very aware of the barriers our future clients face in order to access the professional help they want when they want it.

At Gravy Banana, our improving access strategy prioritises 5 particular barriers that we consider to be the most common and significant.

Our Top 5 barriers to accessing mental health services:

1. Symptoms

2. Stigma

3. Poverty

4. Invisibility

5. Cost v Wait

This short blog is the first in a 5 part series and focuses on SYMPTOMS of mental health problems and how they make it difficult to get help. At the end of each section is a statement of what we are doing as a mental health service to work to break down these barriers.


Top 3 symptoms that make it difficult to get help:

1. Hopelessness:

Many people living with mental health problems, particularly depression, experience a common symptom of a lingering "doom type" feeling that creates negative thoughts like “bad things are coming my way” or “I can’t see how things can change for me.” This creates a feeling of hopelessness and general anxiety.

We vary in how “bothered” we are by this feeling of hopelessness.

If our depression is severe or we have had these symptoms for a long time, we may be so used to feeling hopeless that we have just accepted that this is part of life. When we are in this “head space” so to speak, it makes it very difficult to get professional help because we just can’t see how it will help.

Professional mental health services have a role here to educate as much as possible about symptoms and the effectiveness of therapy.

2. Easily overwhelmed

Once we start thinking that something has to change and we need professional help to do it, we are getting one step closer to accessing services. We now have the next barrier to overcome, which, for a lot of people will be making that first appointment.

If you are experiencing mental health problems right now, it is highly likely that even the thought of making a call or sending an email to book that first appointment is overwhelming. Anxiety and depression in particular can make this seem an impossible task and the thought alone can create more feelings of exhaustion and worthlessness each time we try to do it in our imagination and “fail.”

Most of us tend to go to our GP first when we are concerned about our mental health and GPs are often the first professionals we tell. It might be helpful to know that GPs vary considerably in their knowledge of mental health problems and the local services that are available.

If your GP has very little knowledge, then this can increase the feeling of hopelessness after the appointment and it might be helpful to request an appointment with another GP who has some training or a special interest in mental health.

Professional mental health services have a role to educate local GPs about mental health symptoms, effective treatments and local services.

3. Difficulty communicating

It is a very normal experience when our mental health is compromised to experience difficulties with our use of verbal language. We can often have great difficulty putting things into words. We can find there are no words. Or we are conflicted and there are too many words in a jumble and we don’t know what we are trying to say. We don’t have a coherent narrative to put to what we are experiencing. Even the words “I need help” can be hard to find.

Mental health professionals understand this symptom and are trained to listen and tune into the other ways that you are communicating, they don’t pressure you to talk lots and don't expect you to know what you want to say - this is part of why you are there.

We hope that the information above has been helpful to raise awareness of the barriers to accessing services. Please get in touch by emailing if this has prompted you to think about getting help for your own mental health.

Look out for our next blog on "STIGMA" PART 2 in our series on improving access to services.

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