Stigma stops people from googling the word ‘counseling’

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Even in a private and anonymous setting online, some people are less likely to take the first step to get information about mental health concerns and counseling, a new study finds.

Self-stigma is a powerful obstacle to overcome, researchers say. A new study was designed specifically to measure how participants respond when given the opportunity to learn more online about mental health concerns and university counseling services.

Of 370 college students who participated in the study, only 8.7 percent clicked the link for mental health information and 9 percent sought counseling information. Those numbers dropped to 2.2 percent and 3.5 percent respectively, among people with high self-stigma.

“It’s not just the fear of seeing a counselor or therapist,” says Daniel Lannin, a psychology graduate student at Iowa State University. “It’s actually when people are sitting at home or on their phone. That stigma prevents them from even learning more information about depression or about counseling.”

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The results, published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, illustrate the need for better stigma interventions, says Lannin, who is developing and testing different online interventions—a difficult venture because such efforts are often rejected by the people they are meant to help.

The challenge is designing the intervention so it’s not threatening to a person with greater stigma.

One in five people struggle with mental illness, and many never get help, Lannin says. Those who do wait an average of 11 years, before finally seeking treatment. Distressed students in the study were more likely to click the link for information (8.5 percent probability for those with high self-stigma, compared to 17.1 percent for those with low self-stigma). Distress is like the gas pedal and stigma the brake. Unfortunately, by the time someone reaches a high level of distress, he or she is often struggling to function.

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“Identifying distressed students can be difficult because distress affects people in different ways. The main thing we notice is impairment in functioning across multiple spheres. They struggle with school work or with family relationships and friendships. If it gets bad enough, they might struggle with hygiene or start strongly contemplating suicide,” Lannin says.

“It’s not just that they feel bad; it’s that functionally they’re impaired.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, three-quarters of all chronic mental illness begins by age 24. Lannin says for many young adults this is a time of transition—going to college, working full-time, and moving away from home—adding to the reasons they may not seek help.

Adding brief self-affirmation activities to websites frequented by at-risk populations, as well as links to additional mental health and treatment information may help, Lannin says. Self-affirmation interventions could also be incorporated into outreach events organized by university counseling centers.

Source: Iowa State University