Stigma and discrimination are central concerns for people with mental health problems. The aim of the study was to carry out a follow-up survey of a national survey of experiences of avoidance, discrimination and positive treatment in people with mental health problems to explore how those experiences relate to health service use.
In 2017, telephone interviews were carried out with 655 Australians aged 18+, who had participated in a 2014 survey and reported a mental health problem or scored highly on a symptom screening questionnaire. Questions covered mental health, disclosure, health service utilisation, and experiences of avoidance, discrimination and positive treatment in a variety of different settings. Regression analyses were used to assess the extent to which count of settings of experiences of avoidance, discrimination or positive treatment at baseline (2014) or follow-up (2017) predicted health service use at follow-up.
An increase in past experiences of discrimination was associated with a greater number of visits to hospital or specialist doctors and an increase in positive treatment was associated with a greater number of visits to a mental health professional. Increases in both positive and negative experiences were associated with greater healthcare costs, but the costs were greatest for discrimination at follow-up (concurrent discrimination), primarily due to the cost of nights in hospital.
While both discrimination and positive treatment are associated with greater healthcare costs, concurrent experiences were shown to be more important correlates of health service use than past experiences. Moreover, those in supportive environments may be more willing to engage in earlier evidence-based treatment for mental health problems.