Study IDs barriers to youth mental health services

· 4 min read

Study IDs barriers to youth mental health services

UNL's Susan Swearer presented the study Aug. 9 at the American Psychological Association's annual convention.
UNL File Photo
UNL's Susan Swearer co-presented the study Aug. 9 at the American Psychological Association's annual convention.

New research presented Aug. 9 at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention offers a glimpse into barriers facing young people in need of mental health services and the paucity of effective service delivery methods accessible to them.

The study, based on 2,645 surveys of young people aged 13-25, finds that preferred methods of mental health service delivery vary based on the respondents’ age, gender, sexual orientation, and levels of anxiety or depression, revealing a chasm between what those seeking help want and what is available to them. The findings are the result of a partnership among Born This Way Foundation – which facilitated data collection through its Born Brave Bus Tour and online properties – and UNL, National Council for Behavioral Health and the National Association of School Psychologists.

The majority of youth, adolescents and young adults prefer online, text messaging or face-to-face help-seeking communication, the study found, despite traditional telephone hotlines remaining a ubiquitous available options. These findings raise questions about how to best assist youth based on their preferences and connect them to the services they need. These data suggest that mental health resources need to be modernized for a more tech savvy generation. Key survey findings include:

Overall preference against help via telephone: Talking on the phone is the least preferred form of seeking help regardless of gender, grade, sexual orientation, anxiety or depression score. Regardless of demographic information or anxiety/depression score, talking on the phone was ranked by less than 16 percent of respondents as the preferred method of communication.

Difference in preference based on age: Junior high and high school students prefer online/text messaging (46.6 percent) help-seeking compared to college and post-college individuals, who prefer to talk face-to-face (55.1 percent).

Difference in preference based on sexual orientation: Those who identify as straight and gay/lesbian prefer to talk in-person (56.2 percent and 50.6 percent respectively) compared to queer/questioning or bisexual individuals, who prefer online/text messaging (47.3 percent and 43.7 percent respectively).

Difference in preference based on location: Those who live in cities highly preferred talk-in-person (53.8 percent) to online/text messaging or phone call compared to individuals in rural or suburban areas who prefer either talk-in-person (47.5 percent and 47.8 percent respectively) or online/text messaging (43.2 percent and 43.7 percent respectively) over phone call (9.3 percent and 8.6 percent respectively).

Highly depressed non-gendered preferences: Those who do not identify as male or female, and exhibit high depression scores highly prefer online/text messaging (64.7 percent) over phone call (5.9 percent) or talk-in-person (29.4 percent).

“These data show that youth need access to mental health options that are different than the ones typically provided. States’ mental health policies sometimes limit online or text messaging help, as the mental health provider may be in a different jurisdiction than the individual seeking help,” said Susan Swearer, professor of school psychology at UNL. “State licensing agencies should modernize their service delivery options to best serve those in need.”

The presentation is the first time these data have been presented and the collaborating organizations plan to distribute the data to policymakers and service providers to encourage further discussion on improving mental health services accessibility and delivery.

“We will use the data to help policymakers and service providers better create the conditions by which young people access mental health services. Encouraging youth to love who they are and live their lives bravely means communicating with them in the ways they are most comfortable,” said foundation co-founder Cynthia Germanotta. “This study is the first step in creating the adult scaffolding for young people to thrive and validates the three pillars of the Born This Way Foundation: safety, skills, and opportunities for youth.”

Policy papers from UNL, the National Council for Behavioral Health and the National Association of School Psychologists will be released later this fall.

Led by Lady Gaga and her mother, Germanotta, the Born This Way Foundation was founded in 2011 to foster a more accepting society, where differences are embraced and individuality is celebrated. The foundation is dedicated to creating a safe community that helps connect young people with the skills and opportunities they need to build a kinder, braver world. More information on the foundation can be found here.

The National Council for Behavioral Health is the unifying voice of America’s community mental health and substance use treatment organizations. More information can be found here. The National Association of School Psychologists empowers school psychologists by advancing effective practices to improve students’ learning, behavior and mental health. More information can be found here.

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