Young adults face major barriers to seeking help from mental health services

Patient Educ Couns. 2008 Oct;73(1):97-104. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2008.05.006. Epub 2008 Jun 27.


Objective: Mental health problems often emerge in young adulthood. Although effective treatments are available, young adults are unlikely to seek professional help. This study examined barriers-to-care in young adults with serious internalizing or externalizing problems.

Methods: Population-based study among 2258 19-32-year olds in the south-west region of the Netherlands. Barriers-to-care were examined in participants with serious internalizing or externalizing problems who did not seek professional help. A potential barrier was that participants denied that they had mental health problems. In those admitting problems, barriers were assessed with the Barriers-to-Care checklist and analyzed with Latent Class Analysis.

Results: Of 362 participants with serious internalizing or externalizing problems 237 (65.5%) did not seek professional help. Of non-help-seeking young adults 36% denied having problems; additionally Latent Class Analysis revealed that 37% Perceived Problems as Self-Limiting (e.g., they believed that problems were not serious) and 24% Perceived Help-Seeking Negatively (e.g., they believed that treatment would not help).

Conclusions: Young adults' barriers-to-care reflect limitations in their knowledge of mental health problems and available treatments, but possibly also a failure of existing mental health services to engage young people. More knowledge is urgently needed about the effectiveness of mental health treatments for young adults specifically.

Practice implications: Treatment accessibility for young adults may be augmented by improving their mental health literacy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health Services* / statistics & numerical data
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Netherlands
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*