Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

Adult Perceptions of Youth Mental Health Issues in a Canadian Province

Academic journal article International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health

Adult Perceptions of Youth Mental Health Issues in a Canadian Province

Article excerpt

Introduction

Adequate levels of mental health literacy ('the knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid their recognition, management or prevention'(1)) in the population is important for several reasons. First, it is estimated that in the course of a lifetime, almost everyone will either come into contact with a person with a mental health problem or will develop a mental health problem (1). Second, poor mental health literacy may delay treatment as people are unable to identify the signs and symptoms of mental health problems or be unable to clearly communicate these symptoms to care providers (2). As the majority of mental health problems begin before the age of 24 (3), understanding the public's knowledge of mental health problems in adolescents is crucial as this sets the context in which policy is developed, clinicians are trained and individuals seek care (4). Furthermore, an Australian study found that when dealing with mental health issues, youth (aged 15-25) were most likely to turn to family and friends for assistance before seeking out professional help (3). Therefore, it is important that members of the general public are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems and are able to direct individuals to appropriate sources of care.

Poor mental health literacy is believed to contribute to public stigma towards individuals with mental health problems. This in turn can lead to social distancing ('the desire to avoid contact with a particular group of people' (5)) from individuals with mental health problems which can further impact an individual's ability to seek and receive treatment and successfully integrate into society (6). While the desire for social distance from adults with mental health issues has been widely reported on in the literature, the desire for social distance from children and youth afflicted with mental health problems is less clearly understood (5). A 2009 review of social distance from individuals with mental health problems concluded that social distance should routinely be measured as part of national health surveys as an indicator of public stigma and the impact of public health campaigns to reduce stigma towards individuals with mental health problems (5).

This study aimed to assess the mental health literacy of the general population in relation to the prevalence of moderate mental health problems in youth, and to assess their desire for social distance from youth afflicted with moderate mental health problems.

Methods

English-speaking men and women who were at least 18 years of age and were residing in Alberta Canada at the time of contact were involved in this population-based study. Participants were recruited through a random-digit dialling technique targeting landlines and cellular phones. If an individual was contacted on their cellular phone, they were given the opportunity to provide an alternative number for a scheduled call back. Potential participants were contacted up to 10 times at various times of day. Interviews took approximately 30 minutes to complete. Prior to beginning the questionnaire, participants were informed that their participation in this research was completely voluntary, that their individual responses would be kept confidential, and that they could end the interview at any time. An overall response rate of 21.2% (1203/5667) was obtained for this survey and on average it took 3.9 call attempts to complete an interview. This study was approved by the Arts, Science and Law Research Ethics Board at the University of Alberta.

Questionnaire

The Alberta Survey is conducted annually by the Population Research Laboratory at the University of Alberta to understand public opinion on issues with relevance to public policy. Community groups, researchers and governmental organizations have the opportunity to add a group of questions to this survey each year.

To understand mental health literacy and a desire for social distance, respondents were asked the following 5 questions regarding their perceptions about youth mental health issues along with questions related to respondent demographics:

1. …

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