According to researchers at Case Western Reserve, it is vital to reduce stigmas associated with adolescent mental illness in order to increase the number of adolescents who seek help. The study is published in the Journal of Nursing Measurement.
The researchers note that it is particularly difficult to tackle this problem as teenagemental health stigma is rarely studied and because there is insufficient data regarding the accuracy of measures used to evaluate it.
"We need to find a reliable and valid way to measure the presence of stigma associated with mental illness among adolescents," said Melissa Pinto, Ph.D., RN, KL2 Clinical Research Scholar and instructor of nursing at the university's Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.
As a result, the team tested an existing measure among 210 adolescents aged between 13 and 18 from public and private high schools in the southern United States. Their article about the evaluation, "Psychometric Evaluation of the Revised Attribution Questionnaire (r-AQ) to Measure Mental Illness Stigma in Adolescents," was published in the year's first issue of the journal.
Although, the researchers considered this questionnaire reliable and valid for this age group, further evaluations among more diverse groups throughout the nation are required.
In order to help adolescents understand the benefits of seeking help for mental illness, it is vital that the true value of such measures are determined in advance, say the researchers. Earlier studies have demonstrated that young individuals suffering from mental illness often avoid treatment due to concerns about the perceptions of peers and others in their social network.
Pinto notes that adolescents pick up cues about what is acceptable and unacceptable from people around them. Teens are less likely to get help if they believe their friends will distance themselves once their struggles with mental illness become know, whereas if they believe their friends will be accepting they are more likely to seek help.
The questionnaire used in this study measured the emotional reaction to a person with mental illness. This is vital as emotional reactions to individuals with mental illness are linked to how easy or hard it is to interact socially with others and discriminating behaviors.
The teams results were confirmed after they administered the questionnaire again 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."
The idea behind reducing stigma about mental illness is to get adolescents the help they need. "If untreated, illnesses, like depression and mood disorders, tend to reoccur and become chronic," said Pinto.
Often the onset of a mental illness occurs before 25 years of age. By avoiding help, adolescents are more likely to have unwanted pregnancies, substance abuse problems, difficulty at school or work, or commit suicide.
"Mental illness is like other diseases, with treatment, people can recover. Creating a social culture where people feel comfortable getting treatment and talking about the illness with others who can support them is a vital initial step that can help people get better."