Young people's help-seeking for mental health problems

Debra Rickwood, Frank Deane, Coralie Wilson, Joseph Ciarrochi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper summarises an ambitious research agenda aiming to uncover the factors that affect help-seeking among young people for mental health problems. The research set out to consider why young people, and particularly young males, do not seek help when they are in psychological distress or suicidal; how professional services be made more accessible and attractive to young people; the factors that inhibit and facilitate help-seeking; and how community gatekeepers can support young people to access services to help with personal and emotional problems. A range of studies was undertaken in New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT, using both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Data from a total of 2721 young people aged 14–24 years were gathered, as well as information from some of the community gatekeepers to young people’s mental health care. Help-seeking was measured in all the studies using the General Help Seeking Questionnaire (Wilson, Deane, Ciarrochi & Rickwood, 2005), which measures future help-seeking intentions and, through supplementary questions, can also assess prior help-seeking experience. Many of the studies also measured recent help-seeking behaviour using the Actual Help Seeking Questionnaire. The types of mental health problems examined varied across the studies and included depressive symptoms, personal-emotional problems, and suicidal thoughts. The help-seeking process was conceptualised using a framework developed during the research program. This framework maintains that help-seeking is a process of translating the very personal domain of psychological distress to the interpersonal domain of seeking help. Factors that were expected to facilitate or inhibit this translation process were investigated. These included factors that determine awareness of the personal domain of psychological distress and that affect the ability to articulate or express this personal domain to others, as well as willingness to disclose mental health issues to other people. The results are reported in terms of: patterns of help-seeking across adolescence and young adulthood; the relationship of help-seeking intentions to behaviour; barriers to seeking help—lack of emotional competence, the help-negation effect related to suicidal thoughts, negative attitudes and beliefs about help-seeking and fear of stigma; and facilitators of seeking help—emotional competence, positive past experience, mental health literacy, and supportive social influences. The paper considers the implications of the findings for the development of interventions to encourage young people to seek help for their mental health problems, and concludes by identifying gaps in the help-seeking research and literature and suggesting future directions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)218-251
Number of pages34
JournalAustralian e-Journal for the Advancement of Mental Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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