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Impact of Attitudes and Rurality on Veterans' Use of Veterans Health Administration Mental Health Services.

Fischer EP, Curran GM, Fortney JC, McSweeney JC, Williams DK, Williams JS. Impact of Attitudes and Rurality on Veterans' Use of Veterans Health Administration Mental Health Services. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.). 2021 May 1; 72(5):521-529.

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OBJECTIVE: Veterans, especially those residing in rural areas, continue to underutilize mental health care. This longitudinal study assessed attitudes relevant to seeking mental health care services from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) over 12 months, adjusting for residence. METHODS: A questionnaire addressing attitudes, sociodemographic factors, residence, place identity, perceived health status and needs, and structural barriers was administered by telephone to 752 veterans with previous VHA service use. Service use data were obtained from a VHA database. RESULTS: In adjusted models, four attitudes were significantly associated with underuse of VHA mental health care (no use vs. any use; no use vs. nonsustained use vs. sustained use). Higher levels of mistrust of others (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.06, p = 0.046), emotional stoicism (AOR = 1.08, p = 0.003), belief in the self-resolving nature of mental health problems (AOR = 1.91, p = 0.015), and belief in the efficacy of religious counseling for such problems (AOR = 1.09, p = 0.022) were associated with no subsequent service use versus any use. Place identity (suburban), older age, and greater need were associated with greater odds of VHA use. For the comparison of no use versus sustained use, women had lower odds of no use (AOR = 0.49, p < 0.001); similarly, women had lower odds of nonsustained use versus sustained use (AOR = 0.45, p < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: The association of potentially modifiable attitudes with underuse of VHA mental health services suggests that attitudes offer useful targets for efforts to increase mental health care use. That these attitudes were influential regardless of residence suggests that programs addressing attitudinal barriers can be broadly targeted.

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