Attitudes about Mental Health Services and Effects on Utilization of Mental Health Services in Adolescence, Young Adulthood and Old Age

Negative attitudes about mental health services may deter use of mental health services and thus facilitate high prevalence of mental illness in society. Such beliefs and attitudes could arise out of stigma that a society or a particular group attaches to mental illness. Concerning lifespan development, since individuals at different stages of development experience varying life challenges in their desire to gain acceptance in society, attitudes about mental illness may vary among age groups. In the UK, for instance, a 2011 survey by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) that assessed attitudes toward mental illness revealed significant differences in attitudes about mental illness among individuals aged 16-34, 35-54, and 55+ years. Similarly, in the US, data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) highlighted differences in attitudes toward mental health services, among different age groups (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] et al., 2012). Such findings indicate the need to assess age-specific differences in attitudes toward mental health services to facilitate the development of strategies that are better suited to alleviate negative attitudes in a particular age group. To assess attitudes toward mental illness, this paper focuses on adolescence, young adulthood (18-34years), and old age (55+) and makes the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Adolescents will have more negative attitudes toward mental health services than young adults.

Hypothesis 2: Old adults will have more negative attitudes toward mental health services than young adults.

Attitudes about Mental Health Services in different Developmental Stages

As identified in the review by Angermeyer and Dietrich (2006), despite the positive change in attitudes toward mental disorders in society in the last two decades, a substantial part still considers mentally ill people to be unpredictable and dangerous (p. 174). Such negative perception of the mentally ill continues to fuel stigma towards mental health services thus preventing those who need the services from seeking help (Jagdeo et al., 2009). In addition, perceptions of low efficacy of mental health services (ten Have et al., 2010) limit their acceptance as a prudent way of addressing mental illness. As evident from the US (CDC et al., 2012) and the UK (HSCIC, 2011) surveys, such attitudes differ among age groups. Thi diversity in attitudes among age groups presents a need to evaluate attitudes toward mental health services within specific age groups and the differences in attitudes among the groups.

Adolescents Attitudes about Mental Health Services

The need to evaluate attitudes of adolescents toward mental health services arises from suggestions that a substantial number suffers from various emotional and behavioral disorders. For instance, global epidemiological data has approximated the number of children and adolescents who experience a serious mental illness episode in their lifetime to be 20%, while almost 50% of the mental disorders diagnosed in adulthood have a youth onset (Belfer, 2008, in Del Mauro & Williams, 2013, p. 120). Specifically, adolescents are likely to experience a depressive episode with females being twice as likely as males to develop such an episode (Bradley, McGrath, Brannen & Bagnell, 2010). As such, evaluating the attitudes of adolescents toward mental health services would assist in informing treatment approaches that would be more effective and enhance the effectiveness of efforts that aim at increasing adolescents’ use of mental health services.

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