This study provides the first comprehensive empirical evidence of developmental changes in the social influences on seeking mental health care, both in-person and online, during the critical lifestages for mental health of adolescence and young adulthood.
Main source of help-seeking influence was determined via self-report for all young people accessing youth-targeted mental health services in Australia for a first episode of care over a 12 month period during 2013. This comprised 30,839 young people who accessed in-person services and 7,155 clients of the online service.
Results show a major developmental shift in help-seeking influence across the age range, which varied for males and females, and a striking difference between the online and in-person service modalities. The dominant influence online, regardless of age, was the young person themself. In contrast, for in-person services, the dominant influence during adolescence was family, but this changed markedly in late adolescence to favour self-influence, with a lessor, but still substantial effect of family. The influence of friends was surprisingly low.
To support young people with mental health problems to access mental health care, the personal connection of parents and family needs to be engaged to encourage in-person service use through better mental health literacy, particularly for adolescents. In the online environment, ways to ensure that young people themselves are guided to appropriate services are required.