While everyone seems to agree that adolescents often have a negative opinion of mental illness — a perception that prevents many teens from obtaining the care they need — the means to overcome the dilemma remains elusive.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve note that the relative dearth of data regarding stigma in this age group makes tackling the topic particularly tough.
Not only is adolescent mental health stigma rarely studied, but even less is known about the accuracy of measures used to assess it.
Melissa Pinto, Ph.D., R.N., KL2 Clinical Research Scholar and an instructor of nursing at the university’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing comments: “We need to find a reliable and valid way to measure the presence of stigma associated with mental illness among adolescents.”
In a new study, published in the Journal of Nursing Measurement, Pinto and her colleagues sought to begin the process by testing an existing self-survey measure, the “Psychometric Evaluation of the Revised Attribution Questionnaire (r-AQ) to Measure Mental Illness Stigma in Adolescents,” among more than 200 teenagers in the southern United States.
During the testing, researchers learned that young people troubled by mental health conditions are often so concerned about the perceptions of peers and others important in their social network that they forgo treatment that is beneficial.
Young people pick up cues about what is acceptable and unacceptable from those around them, Pinto said. If teens believe friends will distance themselves if their struggles with mental illness become known, they will endure the consequences and risks of disease without asking for assistance. But if peers seem accepting, then chances increase that teens with mental illness will seek help.
The researchers administered the self-report survey to 210 students between the ages of 13 and 18 from southern public and private high schools. The survey measured an important component of stigma, the emotional reaction to a person with mental illness.
This is important because emotional reactions to persons with mental illness are associated with how easy or difficult it is to socially interact with others and discriminating behaviors. Administering the survey again, the results were validated with another group of students.
“The Revised Attribution Questionnaire” was found to be a reliable and valid measure among this group of adolescents. Having measures of that reliable and validity give us confidence when we do interventions with teens to decrease stigma that changes we are see are actually changes and not an artifact of the measure. Specifically, this measure holds promise to be used in intervention studies to determine if our interventions work, Pinto said.
She added that it is the first time the Revised Attribution Questionnaire is found to be both reliable and valid in assessing stigma associated with mental illness in adolescents.
The idea behind changing attitudes about mental illness is to get teens help they need. “If untreated, illnesses, like depression and mood disorders, tend to reoccur and become chronic,” Pinto said.
Mental illness often begins before the age of 25. If an adolescent denies or hides the disease, they can suffer negative consequences as they may drop out from school, develop a substance abuse problem, accidentally become pregnant, struggle at work, and even contemplate suicide.
“Mental illness is like other diseases, with treatment, people can recovery. Creating a social culture where people feel comfortable getting treatment and talking about the illness with others who can support them is vital initial steps that can help people get better,” Pinto said.
Source: Case Western Reserve