Background. Many people with symptoms of psychological distress do not seek professional help. Little is known about the actions taken by these people to reduce their symptoms. The present study aimed to assess, in a community sample, actions taken to cope with depression at different levels of psychological distress.
Method. A postal survey was carried out with 6618 adults living in Canberra and south-east New South Wales, Australia. Measures covered psychological distress and a checklist of actions taken to cope with depression in the previous 6 months.
Results. Actions taken to cope with depression could be classified as: intensification of everyday strategies, initiation of new self-help (including complementary therapies, non-prescription medication and dietary changes) and seeking professional help. Use of everyday strategies peaked with mild psychological distress, new self-help showed a peak in moderate distress, while professional help-seeking peaked in severe distress.
Conclusion. Self-help strategies are very commonly used, particularly in mild–moderate psychological distress. More evidence is needed to evaluate their effectiveness, so that optimal self-help can be encouraged.