Brain Sciences


Stigma is the biggest barrier for young people in seeking help for mental health problems

23 June 2020

While public awareness and understanding of mental health has improved in recent time, a new UCL Psychiatry review suggests young people are still not getting the help they need.

paranoid gir

The paper published by BMC Psychiatry found that stigma remains the number one barrier for young people in getting professional help for their mental health, followed by negative attitudes and beliefs about mental health services and professionals.

It found the negative attitudes and beliefs about mental health services and professionals were particularly felt by immigrant and refugee populations. Also the study found all of the interventions for help-seeking were evaluated in a school setting, suggesting that those outside of school are not being catered for.

Other barriers found in the study included mental health literacy (i.e. poor recognition of mental health conditions and lack of awareness of the help available), a perceived need to be self-sufficient and autonomous, fears about confidentiality breaches, and to a lesser extent resources such as cost, transportation and waiting times.

The researchers not only wanted to explore what obstacles young people face but also what encourages them to seek help and what interventions have been developed to promote help-seeking for common mental health problems.

Lead author Antonia Aguirre Velasco said: “We discovered trusted and strong relationships with possible gatekeepers such as teachers, parents, GPs, health professionals were the most commonly cited facilitators of helping young people get mental health support. Prior positive help-seeking experiences were also considered a strong factor in influencing young people to seek professional services.”

Senior author Dr Sarah Rowe said in continuing to address the issue of mental health stigmatisation there is a need to improve mental health literacy for young people and those supporting them for instance teachers, parents and GPs.

“That way if young people do ask for help for mental health problems, they are more likely to have a positive experience, and those supporting them feel confident to help them,” she said.

“Encouraging partnerships between health, education, community settings and social care is vital for adolescents inside and outside of the schools’ system to be able to access help-seeking tools for mental healthcare,” she added.