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"Is there a medicine for these tensions?": Barriers to treatment-seeking for depressive symptoms in rural India: A qualitative study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number112741
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date19 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


King's Authors


Rationale and objective
Fewer than 15% of adults who meet criteria for a depression diagnosis in India seek treatment for these symptoms. It is unclear whether this reflects limited supply of mental health services or lack of demand for medical intervention for these experiences. This paper aims to identify and describe self-reported barriers that contribute to this “treatment gap” in a rural district in central India, where depression treatment had recently become available in primary care facilities.

In this qualitative study we conducted in-depth interviews with 35 adults who screened positive for depression and who had not sought treatment for their condition, and 15 of their relatives. We analysed the data using the framework approach.

A key barrier to seeking health care for psychological symptoms was lack of perceived need for treatment for these symptoms. Low perceived need for health interventions arose because participants frequently attributed depression-like symptoms to their socio-economic circumstances, or to the stress of physical illness, which conflicted with the biomedical approach associated with health services. Despite widespread recognition of the links between psychological symptoms, social circumstances and physical health, it was believed that health care providers are equipped to treat only somatic symptoms, which were commonly reported.

Low demand for depression treatment reflected discrepancies between the community's perceived needs and a narrow biomedical model of mental health. Meeting their needs may require a radical change in approach that acknowledges the social determinants of distress, and the interactions between mental and physical health. The capabilities approach may provide a framework for more holistically conceptualising people's needs.

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