Mental Health Help-Seeking Intentions among International and African American College Students: An Application of the Theory of Planned Behavior

By Mesidor, Jean Kesnold; Sly, Kaye F. | Journal of International Students, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Mental Health Help-Seeking Intentions among International and African American College Students: An Application of the Theory of Planned Behavior


Mesidor, Jean Kesnold, Sly, Kaye F., Journal of International Students


Abstract

This study examined the relationship between social-cognitive factors (e.g., attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control), psychological distress, and help-seeking intentions for a sample of 111 international and African American college students. The results of this study showed that the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) variables (e.g., attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control) accounted for 17.7 % of the variance in help-seeking intentions. The first hypothesis, which predicted that positive attitudes toward mental health services and perceived behavioral control would be significant predictors of the students' intentions to seek mental health services, was partially supported. Perceived behavioral control was the strongest predictor of help-seeking intentions. Contrary to our expectations, attitudes toward mental health services were not a significant predictor of mental health seeking intentions. The second hypothesis was not supported. There was no significant difference in mean intention scores for African American college students compared to international college students. These findings have implications for mental health service providers in terms of designing outreach mental health programs that would motivate these students to translate their help-seeking intentions into behaviors (e.g., seeking mental health services when they experience psychological distress).

Keywords: Mental health, help-seeking intention, international students, African American college students

There has been a significant increase in the number of international and African-American college students attending U.S. colleges and universities. Approximately 690,923 international college students were enrolled in colleges and universities in the 2009-2010 academic year, which constituted an increase of 3% for the academic year 2009-2010 (Institute of International Education, 2010). However, it should be noted that there was a decrease of 4.7% of international students enrolled in colleges and universities in Mississippi (the site of the current study) during the academic year of 2009-2010. The number of African-American students attending higher education in the U.S increased from 9% to 14% from 1978 to 2009 (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2011).

Few researchers have investigated mental health seeking intentions among international and African-American college students. The literature suggests that international and African American college students underutilize mental health services (Rosenthal & Wilson, 2008; Yargason, Linville, & Zitzman, 2008; Mori, 2000; Davidson, Yakushka Sanford-Martens, 2004; Soet & Sevig, 2006). Underutilization refers to "an evaluative term applied to situations in which individuals who might benefit from services do not use them" (Rosenthal & Wilson, 2008, p. 61). The reasons many international and African-American college students are reluctant to seek help from mental health professionals remains unknown. However, the most frequent issues for the low mental health utilization and negative attitudes toward mental health services include cultural mistrust (Duncan & Johnson, 2007; So, Gilbert, & Romero, 2005), attitudes toward mental health problems, African American spirituality (So, Gilbert, & Romero, 2005) and socioeconomic status (Duncan & Johnson, 2007) . So et al. (2005) found that the more students are aware of their need for psychotherapeutic help, the greater their stigma tolerance, interpersonal openness, and confidence in mental health practitioners.

Theory of Planned Behavior

Despite substantial support for the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) as a way of predicting health behavior, there have been few studies that have investigated the role of psychosocial factors (intentions, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control, and psychological distress) in mental health seeking intentions among international and African-American college students. …

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