Help-Seeking by Young People: Part 1

December 07, 2012

News Type:  Weekly Spark Research

A review of the research on help-seeking by young people found that although 40-68 percent of young people experiencing suicidal ideation turn to peer and family for assistance, the results of this help-seeking is often less than effective. Fewer than 25 percent of the peers tell an adult about a friend’s problem or urge the young person in crisis to go to an adult for help. Parents are often unaware that their child is experiencing suicidal ideation, and even if they become aware of the problem, believe it will go away without professional help.

The research also revealed that a majority of peers and parents believe that talking with a young person about suicide will increase their risk, which is not the case. Young people are reluctant to ask for help because they fear that promises of confidentiality will be broken; that they will be hospitalized; and because they believe the problem will go away on its own. The authors report that “although education and awareness programs have been shown to improve knowledge and help-seeking attitudes, they do not increase help-seeking behavior…”

The authors recommend implementing school-based screening programs to identify students at risk for suicide and refer them to mental health services. They also recommend educating youth and parents that talking with a young person about suicide will not increase their risk. This article reviewed 23 international community studies of help-seeking for suicidal thoughts and self-harm among young people up to the age of 26.

SPRC Commentary

This is the second of three research summaries on the issue of help-seeking. The December 13 issue of the Weekly Spark will feature a summary of an article on help-seeking that was published too recently to be included in this review, as well as a short commentary on the implications of the research on help-seeking for suicide prevention in schools.

Michelmore, L., & Hindley, P. (2012). Help-seeking for suicidal thoughts and self-harm in young people: A systematic review. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 42(5):507-24.