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Mental health counseling remains persistently low from adolescence into young adulthood

Research Activities, February 2009, No. 359

Mental health problems suffered by adolescents often persist into young adulthood. Young adults' mental health problems are compounded by the fact that they face a number of barriers to accessing medical care. For example, many lack the insurance coverage they may have previously had through their parents and many don't have job-related insurance. Not surprisingly, low rates of mental health counseling persist from adolescence to young adulthood, concludes a new study.

Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco analyzed data from a sample of 10,817 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The data included an initial survey in 1995 (mean age of 15.8 years) and followup survey 7 years later (mean age of 21.5 years). Among individuals suffering from depressive symptoms, young adults reported significantly lower rates of counseling use than adolescents. Female gender, high maternal education, school attendance, and receipt of routine physical exams were significantly predictive of counseling use among young adults.

Young black adults were significantly less likely to receive counseling than their white counterparts. Overall, 4 percent of young adults reported foregoing mental health care in the past year, despite self-reported mental health needs. Commonly cited reasons ranged from inability to pay, belief that the problem would go away, and lack of time. Fear of what the doctor would say or do and belief that the doctor would be unable to help were more often mentioned by those who acknowledged a need for counseling services. Thus, reluctance to seek counseling stems not only from care access problems, but also issues that are directly applicable to previous relationships with doctors. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00086).

More details are in "Use of mental health counseling as adolescents become young adults," by Jennifer W. Yu, Sc.D., Sally H. Adams, R.N., Ph.D., Jane Burns, Ph.D., and others, in the September 2008 Journal of Adolescent Health 43, pp. 268-276.

Current as of February 2009
Internet Citation: Mental health counseling remains persistently low from adolescence into young adulthood: Research Activities, February 2009, No. 359. February 2009. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.