Adolescents’ perceptions of mental health services: an interpretive descriptive study
University College Cork
Background: Adolescence is a peak period for the onset of mental distress, yet adolescents may not seek help from mental health services. While studies have been conducted on perceptions of mental distress from the perspectives of adolescents with no prior experience of accessing mental health services, little research has been conducted on their perceptions of mental health services. Aim: To explore adolescents’ perceptions of mental health services, including mental health care environments, staff, and treatment. Methods: An interpretive description approach guided this study. Data were collected through individual interviews with 30 students in the Transition Year (4th year) of secondary school in Ireland. The students had no prior experience of accessing mental health services. To complement interviews, participants drew images of mental health care environments and mental health staff members. The narratives arising out of these drawings were analysed. Interview data were analysed using qualitative content analysis. Manifest (surface level) data are presented in categories and sub-categories. Latent (underlying meaning) data are presented in themes. Findings: Five themes were identified. “Mental health” and “psychiatric” were perceived as different concepts. Participants were aware of mental health issues and associated services but held more stigmatising perceptions of psychiatric services. Participants were uncertain about how to access services, and about what form such services take. Mental health care environments were positively regarded, as were the staff who worked there; less positive attitudes were noted for psychiatric care environments and staff. It was suggested that, to work in mental health services, one would need to have completed a vast amount of study. It was also suggested that the experience of mental distress may influence people to pursue a career in mental health services. Perceptions of services were influenced by multimedia, in particular, television programmes and film. This mode of influence (i.e. multimedia) was also recommended as an education strategy that could be used to enhance adolescent awareness about mental health services. Conclusion: Adolescents hold stigmatising perceptions of mental health and are uncertain about how mental health services operate. Adolescents need to be educated about mental health services. It is suggested that traditional modes of education, such as leaflets and posters are ineffective, and a more modern format (i.e. multimedia) would enhance this education. It is expected that provision of education in this area would reduce stigma and improve help-seeking behaviours. This education may also help to demystify the role of mental health staff and enhance service recruitment at a time when staff issues are a major service concern.
Adolescents , Qualitative , Mental health , Interpretive description , General public
Goodwin, J. 2021. Adolescents’ perceptions of mental health services: an interpretive descriptive study. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.