Barriers to Getting Help

Despite the high prevalence of mental health problems and disorders that develop in adolescence and young adulthood, the majority of young people and their families do not seek or receive help. For example, even for the most common problems like depression and anxiety, each of which is highly treatable, only about one third of young people seek professional help.


Barriers to seeking professional help include:
  1. Difficulty recognizing that a problem is developing
  2. Trouble seeing problems or symptoms as a reason to seek help
  3. Concerns about stigma
  4. Social and cultural factors that lead people to feel ashamed to seek help
  5. Difficulty finding, choosing, or paying for the right help


Factors that can make it especially hard for a young person to seek help include:
  1. Symptoms of depression or suicidal thoughts (these problems often narrow people's sense of hope and alternative solutions)
  2. Negative attitudes about seeking help (such as a belief that only weak or "crazy"people seek help)
  3. Negative past experiences with sources of help
  4. Beliefs that one should handle problems on his or her own


For example, a large study in the United States found that a third of adolescents with serious suicidal thoughts, depression or substance use problems believed that people should handle their own problems without outside help (Gould et al., 2005).

Stigma and Negative Attitudes

Stigma and negative attitudes toward mental health symptoms, problems, and help-seeking are significant barriers to early intervention. Young people tend to be very concerned about being seen as "mental" or "emo" by their friends and others. The stigma of mental illness is associated with less willingness to seek help. Given the relative absence of public health campaigns or school-based education programs to support mental health literacy, much of what young people and parents know about mental illness comes from the media. Unfortunately, many media portrayals are quite negative, and work as a disincentive to identify problems or seek help. This is an important reason why CEDAR staff offer free education and outreach programs to our community and across our Commonwealth.

See Community Outreach >

Believing that seeking help "won't help" or thinking that "nothing can help" also keeps people from getting help early. Young people and their parents are often unsure whether specific sources of help will actually make a useful difference.


Young people are more likely to seek help if they...
  • have some knowledge about how mental health problems develop
  • understand that most mental health problems respond very well to early treatment
  • feel emotionally capable of sharing their feelings and experiences
  • are able to develop a trusting relationship with potential help providers


For more information about challenging stigma:

SAMHSA - "What a Difference a Friend Makes"

Wilder Research - "Stigma Reduction"


To increase awareness of the early signs of psychosis and to help challenge stigma, help us schedule a training with people you know:


See Community Outreach >


See Common Questions >