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Help seeking for mental health problems in adolescence and early adulthood.
Advances in Mental Health (2005)
  • Coralie J Wilson, University of Wollongong

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Adolescence and young adulthood are critical life stages for mental health, as this is the period when most mental health problems and mental disorders have their peak incidence. It is also a time of increased suicidal ideation and frequency of suicide attempts. Despite the importance of adolescence and young adulthood in the aetiology of mental disorders, there is evidence that young people may be poorly informed about mental health and are unlikely to consult a professional for their mental health problems. Help-seeking is a term used to refer to the behaviour of actively seeking help from other people. Both the help seeking process and help sources fall along a continuum of varying formality. Informal help-seeking refers to seeking help from individuals within informal social relationships, such as friends and family. Formal help-seeking refers to professional sources of help such as GPs and psychologists. The current report summarises an ambitious research agenda undertaken to determine the factors affecting help-seeking, specifically: why young people and particularly young males do not seek help when they are in psychological distress or suicidal; how to better engage young people in professional services; the factors that inhibit and facilitate help-seeking; and the readiness of community gatekeepers to support young people to access services for personal and emotional problems. A number of studies were undertaken in NSW, Queensland and the ACT. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches were used. Young people themselves, as well as some community gatekeepers to mental health care, were engaged in the research. In total, data from 2721 young people aged 14-24 years were gathered. The General Help Seeking Questionnaire, which measures perceived quality of previous professional help-seeking behavior and future help-seeking intentions, was the help-seeking measure common to all studies. A number of studies also measured recent help-seeking behavior, The problem type varied across studies, and included depressive symptoms, personal-emotional problems, and suicidal thoughts. A conceptual framework was applied that considered factors that were expected to determine awareness of the personal domain related to mental health problems, the ability to articulate or express this personal domain to others, and availability of interpersonal relationships for such disclosure, as well as factors that affect willingness to disclose mental health issues to other people. The results are reported in terms of:  patterns of help-seeking;  relationship of help-seeking intentions to behavior;  barriers to seeking help — lack of emotional competence, the help-negation effect related to suicidal thoughts, negative attitudes toward help-seeking and fear of stigma;  facilitators of seeking help —emotional competence, positive past experience and mental health literacy, and supportive social influences. Implications of the research for the development of interventions to encourage young people’s help-seeking are described as:  the importance of appropriate relationships established before the need for help arises;  active outreach and early intervention that seeks out young people in need;  ensuring that service providers for young people work within a recovery orientation;  awareness of the help-negation process, specifically for suicidal thoughts and social withdrawal;  the importance of developing emotional competence, especially for boys;  the importance of developing mental health literacy for all young people; and  that positive help-seeking experiences need to be developed early in life so that people master the skills for appropriate help-seeking. Directions for future research are:  the adaptiveness of different forms of help-seeking;  the appropriateness of different sources of help;  relationship of help-seeking to other forms of coping;  valid and reliable measures of help-seeking;  a theory of help-seeking to integrate and guide research findings;  help-seeking patterns across the lifespan;  better understanding of factors that inhibit help-seeking; and  better understanding of factors that facilitate help-seeking.

  • youth,
  • adolescents,
  • mental health,
  • help-seeking,
  • help-negation,
  • gatekeepers
Publication Date
Publisher Statement
Rickwood, D., Deane, F. P., Wilson, C. J., & Ciarrochi, J. (2005). Help seeking for mental health problems in adolescence and early adulthood. Australian e-Journal for the Advancement of Mental Health, 4(3: Supplement). Reprinted in Advances in Mental Health, 4(3), 218-251.
Citation Information
Coralie J Wilson. "Help seeking for mental health problems in adolescence and early adulthood." Advances in Mental Health Vol. 4 (2005)
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