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Elizabeth Bailey, Sharon Green-Hennessy, Ph.D.

An Evaluation of Predictors of Help-Seeking for Self and Others in a College Student Population

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Increasingly high levels of prevalence and severity of psychopathology are being reported among the college student population (Benton, Robertson, Tseng, Newton, & Benton, 2003; Gallagher, 2006; Gallagher, Gill, & Sysko, 2000). At the same time, data suggests that this represents only a small percentage of these distressed college students are actually seeking and receiving help from a formal source (Eisenberg Golberstein, & Gollust, 2007; Furr, Westefeld, McConnell, & Jenkins, 2001). Compared to other adults, residential college students live in a unique environment where services are typically centralized and easily physically accessible. This should serve to reduce, if not eliminate, many of the aspects such as cost and accessibility that have been identified as concrete barriers to seeking treatment. The question then, is why are more students not taking advantage of these services?

This study explored these questions, using online survey research to collect data from current undergraduate students (n = 158). Specifically, this study sought to evaluate a theoretical knowledge-action gap when it comes to mental health, in that many students know what they should do, but fail to actually take action. This study, like others (e.g., (Raviv, Sills, Raviv & Willansky, 2000), used a vignette study to examine the difference in the number of students who think that a vignette character should seek help compared to the number of students who think that they personally should seek help for the same problems. Consistent with hypotheses, results indicated that students endorsed the hypothetical other as more likely to need to seek help in general and more likely to need to seek help from formal sources than themselves for the same problem.

Additionally, this study examined potential predictors of help seeking attitudes, including a history of help-seeking, current level of perceived social support, sense of stigma, and current level of distress. Surprisingly, only perceived level of social support was associated with a change in help-seeking behavior, such that students who felt a higher sense of social support were more likely to also seek help from formal sources of help. Post hoc analyses were conducted and provided additional data identifying who students think of when they think of “seeking help,” as well as which sources of help they are most likely to seek help from. This information may be of great value to college personnel, including college counseling centers, in guiding their outreach efforts to meet a greater portion of the need on college campuses.

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