Doctor of Psychology (Clinical)
School of Psychology
Rughani, Janaki, Adolescents’ help-seeking for mental health problems: development and evaluation of a school-based intervention, Doctor of Psychology (Clinical) thesis, School of Psychology, University of Wollongong, 2011. http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/3529
Help-seeking is defined as a request for assistance with problems that the individual does not have the personal resources to solve on their own (Barker, et al., 2005). While it is well established that help-seeking is a protective factor for many significant health and developmental outcomes (Barker, et al., 2005; Kalafat, 1997; Rickwood, et al., 2005), adolescents’ use of professional health services compared to the rest of the population is disturbingly low. The current research aimed to investigate factors that influence adolescent help-seeking from formal sources in order to develop, implement and evaluate a school-based intervention to improve adolescents’ use of professional services for mental health problems.
Study 1 investigated the extent to which perceived benefits of help-seeking, stoicism, gender and symptoms of psychological distress were associated with intentions to seek professional help for mental health problems. A total of 778 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 living in regional areas of New South Wales completed a self-report questionnaire. Results from multiple regression analysis suggested that adolescents were more likely to seek help from professionals if they perceived help-seeking as beneficial. Female participants reported that they were more likely to seek help than male participants. Findings from study 1 suggest that improving adolescents’ beliefs about the benefits of professional help seeking might be a key strategy for increasing their use of professional health services to address mental health problems.
Study 2 aimed to design and implement an intervention that addressed adolescent barriers to seeking help, promoted the benefits of seeking help and provided education about the process of seeking help. Two hundred and sixty Year 11 students from two schools in the Illawarra and South East Region of New South Wales participated in the study. Students were randomised to control and intervention groups and completed questionnaires immediately before and after the presentations, and at 3-months follow-up. The primary outcome variables measured were helpseeking intentions, perceived benefits of help-seeking and perceived barriers to helpseeking. Hierarchical linear modelling was performed to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention on outcome variables. Findings revealed short-term improvements in help-seeking intentions, perceived benefits of help-seeking and perceived barriers to help-seeking as a result of the intervention. However, students’ help-seeking intentions remained in the “unlikely” range of help seeking, and improvements in perceived barriers to help-seeking and perceived benefits to help seeking were only apparent in one of the two schools in the study. Results also revealed that improvements were not maintained at 3-months follow-up, suggesting that the intervention did not facilitate successful long term improvement in help-seeking intentions.
These findings indicate a need to re-consider the design, structure and timing of future interventions so that immediate improvements in help-seeking can be sustained. It will also be useful to measure the level of support provided by school staff to students in regards to health behaviour, and accordingly encourage greater levels of school support and engagement around implementation of an intervention.