Objectives: This study aims to explore the attitudes and beliefs of Omani women attending primary health care and Omani general practitioners regarding help seeking behaviour for emotional distress. The study also intends to clarify the understanding of help seeking from both lay and professional perspectives in the context of Omani culture exploring factors related to doctors’ training and health care services. Methods: A qualitative phenomenological study using semi-structured interviews was conducted at the Family Medicine Health Care Centre at Sultan Qaboos University Hospital. 20 lay informants (Omani women) and 10 professional informants (Omani family physicians) were interviewed. Results: Two main sets of themes are presented in this study; 1). the original themes, which are presented in the results section and represent the descriptive level of analysis, and 2). the emergent themes are presented in the discussion section and represent the interpretive level of analysis. The original themes are: a) self help, with subthemes including the role of faith, talking and distraction. b) Health care and doctors, with subthemes including: reasons for seeing a doctor, reasons for not seeing a doctor, continuity of care, doctor-patient relationship and time. c) Traditional (folk) medicine. The emergent themes are: a) Talking b) Religious faith c) Cultural beliefs and d) The doctor’s role. Cultural and religious beliefs were found to shape the experience of help seeking in the study group. In addition, factors associated with doctor-patient relationship were found to play a major role in determining the help seeking behaviour of women experiencing symptoms related to psychological distress. Professional informants emphasized the role of their training, availability of supporting services, time and continuity of care. The study showed discrepancy between lay and professional informants’ beliefs regarding the role of family physicians in managing mental problems. Conclusion: This study recommends paying more attention to factors related to cultural beliefs, doctor-patient relationship and family physicians’ role when planning health services and residency programs, and when planning research on aspects related to mental health in non-Western cultures.
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