Degree Name

Doctor of Psycology


School of Psychology


Many young people with mental health problems do not seek professional help and remain at risk of suicide and adult psychopathology. The present research investigates the barriers that impede the help seeking of parents and their children and the sources of influence that assist young people to access clinical services. Study 1 uses archival data from a recent survey of non-clinical samples of young people between 15-25 years of age who attended Technical and Further Education (TAPE) colleges (n = 137) or accessed neighbourhood centres (n = 49). Respondents completed measures of psychological distress, suicidal ideation, perceived help seeking barriers and intentions to seek professional help for personal-emotional problems and suicidal thoughts. In TAPE students, psychological and practical barriers were related to intentions to seek help for personal-emotional problems and thoughts of suicide. There was also a positive association between help seeking barriers and the level of suicidal ideation. In the youth centre sample, those in greater distress and therefore most in need, reported more obstacles to obtaining help. There was also evidence of help negation. Higher levels of suicidal ideation were associated with lower levels of intent to seek out professional help. Study 2 examined the relative influence of parents and others on the decision of a young person to access professional help and the relative strength of the barriers faced by parents seeking help for their children. The sample comprised 122 parents and 131 adolescents who attended an initial clinical assessment interview with a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) in Sydney or the Illawarra region of New South Wales. Parents completed measures of help-seeking barriers and influences and the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ; Goodman, 1997). The adolescents completed a measure of help-seeking influences and the self-report SDQ (Goodman, Melzer, & Bailey, 1998). Ninety-four percent of young people reported that others had influenced their decision to access help. Almost 87% were influenced by multiple sources but parents were the single strongest source of influence. Parents and children indicated that parents were more influential in the decision to seek help when there was greater disagreement between parent and child on the extent of the young person's overall and externalizing difficulties on the SDQ. Positive relationships emerged between parent-rated influence variables and parent scores on the Total Difficulties and Externalising SDQ scales. Youth-rated total and externalising difficulty scores were positively related to greater self-involvement in accessing help. Parents rated the strongest barriers to accessing help as; help was too expensive, the wait was too long, not knowing where to get help, thinking that they could solve their child's problem without help and, their child not wanting help. The findings are consistent with contemporary process models that suggest help seeking is a social process and that young people in particular are highly dependent on parents to access help (Cauce et al., 2002; Logan & King, 2001). In addition, it highlights the need to better promote local services and in particular increase awareness that public services are no-fee. Providing parents and their adolescents with strategies for managing differences, in perceptions of problem severity, during the waiting period may reduce both the wait time barrier and effects of problem perception discrepancies on the social influence process.

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Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.