Degree Name

Master of Science - Research (Psychology)


School of Psychology


Background: The developmental period of youth is one of increased risk of mental health issues. Young people most often go to their peers for help, and their help seeking from professional mental health is low. Due to the social nature of help seeking and the stigma surrounding mental health issues, it is imperative that barriers to youth seeking mental health care are lowered and these changes also apply within a whole of school and universal mental health promotion approach.

Aims: This study investigated the effectiveness of a school and community based Forum Theatre, an interactive drama based approach, to engage adolescents in universal mental health promotion to reduce stigma and increase help seeking.

Method: A mixed methods research strategy was used with 1024 adolescents (mean age 15.57 years) from 21 secondary schools in two regions in NSW, Australia. The study employed a pre and post intervention, within-subjects design. The General Help Seeking Questionnaire and other quantitative and qualitative approaches were used to assess help seeking intentions and changes due to the intervention. Fifty eight adolescents participated in focus groups, and 20 school staff were interviewed in groups or individually, to explore qualitative factors involved in the intervention, and help seeking facilitators. Verbatim transcripts were analysed in QSR Nvivo 11. Deductive coding was also used to compare the responses to existing theories and factors related to help seeking.

Results: Adolescents exposed to the intervention reported significant changes in help seeking intentions. Qualitative analyses found the approach to be effective but with potential for improvement. The main themes discussed were that the approach is: age appropriate; engaging and humorous; interactive thereby increasing attention, learning and retention of knowledge and strategies; realistic and relevant, highlighting lived experience and de-stigmatising mental health issues.

Discussion: This study demonstrated the effectiveness of Forum Theatre for breaking down barriers to potential help seeking by adolescents. The benefits were reported to have some enduring value, although future research may wish to add active debriefing and follow up of issues at school to improve benefits. It was suggested that in future where an increase is desired in a specific help seeking source this help seeking source should be specifically targeted in the intervention. This included targeting help seeking from mental health professionals and using the intervention to assist adolescents to increase effective help seeking of their friends. It was found that directly targeting the reduction of help negation may be of benefit using this approach. Adding lived experience speakers following the intervention to further reduce stigma was suggested as likely to be of benefit. Findings of the exploration of facilitators of help seeking were mostly consistent with previous research. The findings confirmed the potential effectiveness of Forum Theatre for increasing help seeking from professionals and assisting adolescents to help friends and reduce help negation, particularly for serious/life threatening mental health issues.

FoR codes (2008)

170106 Health, Clinical and Counselling Psychology



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.