Stanford Medicine Newsletter Updates For the Local Community

 

Study reveals parent and teen perspectives on mental health

   

Stigma associated with mental health issues is a major barrier for local youth suffering from depression, anxiety and other problems, making them reluctant to talk about the issues or seek out help, according to a new report from the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.

The report, “Understanding the Mental Health Needs and Concerns of Youth and Their Parents: An Exploratory Investigation,” is the result of a focus group exercise conducted last fall among six groups of teens and adults in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. The exercise included 62 participants and had a special focus on Asian-American families. The goal was to identify barriers to achieving mental health support for adolescents in the community and to understand how cultural factors may influence the types of resources and interventions that teens and parents want and value. The focus groups were led by faculty, fellows, residents and staff at Stanford Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

Cultural barriers

According to some Asian-American parents and teens who participated, the stigma surrounding mental health is a barrier to family and community discussions about mental health. Some parents said they think children are ashamed to admit they are anxious or depressed, as these are considered signs of weakness. Some teens said they feel their parents either “don’t believe in” mental illness, have the expectation that teens can make themselves better or believe it’s an excuse for underachieving, according to the report.

“I came from China,” one parent said. “I think we [parents] struggle because we use our experience to judge [our children], and we just run into conflict. The value system and everything — family, kids — it’s totally different.”

Some teens described the pressure they feel to achieve academic and personal success while growing up in a high-powered environment surrounded by tech company executives and Stanford professors. They reported that feeling stressed, overloaded and depressed was the “new normal,” making it hard for them and their peers to acknowledge that they need help.

Concerns about consequences

When it comes to identifying resources in the community, teens and parents both identified gaps in awareness of local mental health resources and voiced concerns about a stigma for seeking mental health support, particularly at school. According to one student, “Friends have told me they’d rather not talk to counselors at school because if someone sees you walking into that office, they’re going to automatically assume the worst, and reputation is everything.”

Parents also said they were concerned about long-term confidentiality of mental health support, even wondering whether seeking treatment may impact their kids’ future job prospects in some way.

“You don’t want to broadcast a lot of things because if they have any mental issues when they are younger and employers later find out about it, that may make them ineligible for certain jobs,” one parent said. “It’s a particularly unforgiving society in terms of someone having mental health issues and then being able to get back into the mainstream.”

Overall, the study findings underscore a tremendous need for expanding reliable, youth-friendly mental health services in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, the report concludes. The Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing is spearheading efforts to open a network of mental health centers that will offer confidential, low-cost physical and mental health care for young people age 12 to 25 in the Bay Area. The network is modeled after “headspace,” a national initiative in Australia that offers support for teenagers and young adults facing life challenges, such as relationship breakups, bullying, gender variance, depression and anxiety.

Additional information is available at med.stanford.edu/psychiatry/special-initiatives/youthwellbeing. Copies of the report also can be obtained by contacting Vicki Harrison, MSW, manager of the center (vickih@stanford.edu), or denter director Steven Adelsheim, MD (sadelsheim@stanford.edu).

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