Stigmatising Attitudes Towards Depression and Alcohol Misuse in Young People: Relationships with Help-Seeking Intentions and Behavior
Background and Objective: Adolescents experiencing mental health problems often approach their peers rather than seeking professional help. A better understanding of adolescents' stigmatising attitudes towards mental illness will help inform interventions that aim to improve the quality of advice that young people provide to their peers. In particular, there is a need for research examining adolescents' attitudes towards alcohol misuse, given it's increase in prevalence during this period as well as the adverse outcomes that are associated with untreated early drinking problems.
Methods: High-school students (n=2447) were recruited as part of an intervention focussed on overcoming barriers to accessing help for mental health and substance use problems. Participants were presented with two vignettes that described a peer experiencing depression and alcohol misuse, respectively, and completed the General Help-Seeking Questionnaire as well as a 10-item scale measuring stigmatising attitudes. Past helping behavior was also assessed.
Results: Compared to depression, a peer experiencing alcohol misuse was more likely to be considered "weak" rather than sick, and was perceived as more dangerous and unpredictable. The "weak-not-sick" and "dangerousness" dimensions of stigma predicted weaker intentions to encourage help-seeking from informal sources, while 'dangerousness' predicted stronger intentions to encourage formal help-seeking. Both dimensions were associated with fewer instances of past helping behavior.
Conclusion: Young people stigmatise alcohol misuse more severely than depression. Overall, stigma was associated with weaker intentions to encourage peers to seek help. While perceptions of 'dangerousness' were associated with stronger intentions to seek help from formal sources, this association may not translate into actual helping behavior.