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Researcher of the Month

Encouraging help-seeking for teens with anxiety or depression

Anxiety and depressive disorders are the most common mental health problems in adolescents, yet only a minority of the young people affected access professional help. Dr Jerica Radez and colleagues undertook a qualitative study with teens in UK secondary schools to find out what they perceive to be barriers to help-seeking, and what would encourage them to do so.

Summary

After conducting school-based screening of 1200 11-17 year olds, 22 teens who met diagnostic criteria for anxiety or depression were interviewed by Dr Radez. Separately, she also interviewed their parents. Her aim was to seek adolescents’ viewpoints on barriers and facilitators to seeking professional help for mental health concerns.

She identified four main themes: (1) Teens find it hard to make sense of their difficulties, (2) they find it problematic to communicate about their mental health, (3) they don’t always want to seek help and often feel a need to solve problems independently and (4) despite this adolescent desire for autonomy, they need assistance from school and parents to seek help, which is not always there.

Improving knowledge about anxiety and depressive disorders, normalising mental health problems and help-seeking, providing age-appropriate support for adolescents, and supporting parents in the help-seeking process are instrumental in enabling young people to access professional help.

Implications

Implications for parents – The teens in the project said that regular, unpressured chats about how they are feeling would be beneficial. Parents need to balance sensitivity to their child’s natural desire for autonomy with being loving and interested about their mental health. Parents should seek to learn more about what behaviours are cause for concern, and should normalise help-seeking in family life. Parents should familiarise themselves with where to get help and discuss these options with their teen.

Implications for schools – Schools need to ensure that all staff are aware of red flags for anxiety or depression in pupils. Teens in the study suggested that they would benefit from greater mental health education at school. It’s important that clear pathways are in place for help-seeking and schools should normalise the need to ask for help.

Implications for GPs – Dr Radez’s simple screening tool, just published this month, is specifically designed to screen for anxiety and depression in teens, quickly. GPs may find this useful when assessing teenagers. It is only 11 questions long and is more targeted than commonly used GAD-7 and PHQ9 screening.

Dr Radez would love any feedback from schools or medical professionals using her screening tool. 

Resources Created from and Related to this Research

Dr Jerica Radez, Trainee Clinical Psychologist at The Oxford Institute of Clinical Psychology Training and Research

Dr Radez is a first-year clinical psychology trainee with an interest in adolescent mental health. Prior to starting clinical training, she completed a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Psychology at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. She moved to the UK in 2017 to do a PhD on adolescent anxiety and depression with Drs Polly Waite, Tessa Reardon and Professor Cathy Creswell. Dr Radez’s PhD focused on understanding and overcoming barriers to seeking/accessing professional help for anxiety and depressive disorders in adolescents. She continues to be passionate about her research in young people’s mental health, and, in particular, about improving access to early interventions for young people experiencing mental health difficulties. She is currently planning her clinical doctorate research projects, which will focus on prevention and early intervention in psychosis in adolescents and will continue working with secondary schools. 

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