Stigma and help seeking for mental health among college students

Med Care Res Rev. 2009 Oct;66(5):522-41. doi: 10.1177/1077558709335173. Epub 2009 May 19.


Mental illness stigma has been identified by national policy makers as an important barrier to help seeking for mental health. Using a random sample of 5,555 students from a diverse set of 13 universities, we conducted one of the first empirical studies of the association of help-seeking behavior with both perceived public stigma and people's own stigmatizing attitudes (personal stigma). There were three main findings: (a) Perceived public stigma was considerably higher than personal stigma; (b) personal stigma was higher among students with any of the following characteristics: male, younger, Asian, international, more religious, or from a poor family; and (c) personal stigma was significantly and negatively associated with measures of help seeking (perceived need and use of psychotropic medication, therapy, and nonclinical sources of support), whereas perceived stigma was not significantly associated with help seeking. These findings can help inform efforts to reduce the role of stigma as a barrier to help seeking.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Asian Americans
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mental Health*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Poverty
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Random Allocation
  • Religion
  • Sampling Studies
  • Sex Factors
  • Stereotyping*
  • Students* / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States


  • Psychotropic Drugs