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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Australian rural adolescents' experiences of accessing psychological help for a mental health problem

Candice Boyd, Kristy Francis, Damon Aisbett, Krystal Newnham, Jessica Sewell, Graham Dawes, Sarah Nurse
Australian Journal of Rural Health 2007, 15 (3): 196-200
17542793

OBJECTIVE: This study aims to explore Australian rural adolescents' experiences of accessing help for a mental health problem in the context of their rural communities.

DESIGN AND SETTING: A qualitative research design was used whereby university students who had sought help for a mental health problem during their adolescence were interviewed about their experiences. Interviews were conducted face-to-face at the university.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: A semi-structured interview schedule was designed around the study's main research questions. Audio-taped interviews were transcribed and thematically coded using a constant comparative method.

PARTICIPANTS: Participants were first-year undergraduate psychology students between the ages of 17 and 21 years who sought help for a mental health issue during their adolescence and who at that time resided in a rural area.

RESULTS: Participants highlighted various barriers to seeking help for mental health problems in the context of a rural community, including: social visibility, lack of anonymity, a culture of self-reliance, and social stigma of mental illness. Participants' access to help was primarily school-based, and participants expressed a preference for supportive counselling over structured interventions. Characteristics of school-based helpers that made them approachable included: 'caring', 'nonjudgemental', 'genuine', 'young', and able to maintain confidentiality.

CONCLUSIONS: The findings support previous research that reveals barriers to help seeking for mental health problems that are unique to the culture of rural communities. The study raises questions about the merit of delivery of primary mental health care to young people via GPs alone and suggests that school-based counsellors be considered as the first step in a young person's access to mental health care.

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