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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Mental Health Help Seeking in Schools: The Impact of Mental Health Literacy, Stigma, and Barriers to Care

  • Author(s): Cramer, Kristine
  • Advisor(s): Wang, Cixin
  • Geraghty, Cathleen
  • et al.

A large proportion of adolescents experience significant psychological distress, but a vast majority never obtain needed mental health services. The availability of school-based mental health services has increased immensely in recent years, but ongoing challenges impact students’ utilization of these services. Research on mental health help seeking pathways for adolescents suggests that mental health literacy (MHL), stigma towards seeking help, and context-specific barriers to care are key factors to consider. However, much of the existing literature on these constructs has not focused on help seeking in school-based mental health care settings or has taken place outside of the United States. The present study sought to explore the relationships between MHL, stigma, and school-based barriers to care, as well as to examine how these factors are related to mental health help seeking intentions in school settings. Structural equation modeling procedures (e.g., path analysis) and logistic regressions were used to estimate the relationships between variables of interest. Path analyses revealed an inverse relationship than expected between MHL and adolescents’ help seeking intentions; results suggested that higher levels of MHL negatively predicted adolescents’ school-based help seeking intentions for services. Results from logistic regression analyses suggested that informational barriers to care in schools predicted adolescent help seeking intentions; students who endorsed fewer informational barriers to care were more likely to express help seeking intentions for school-based mental health services. Significant associations were also found between perceived stigma and barriers to care in schools. Specific findings highlighted the importance of providing information to students about mental health services available at their school. Furthermore, study findings may assist researchers and school-based personnel better understand and support adolescents’ help seeking for school-based mental health services.

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