One in ten children and young people living in the UK, between the age of 5 and 16, suffer with a diagnosable mental health disorder. Furthermore, 0.2% of 16-24 year olds suffer from a psychotic disorder. Psychosis is defined as an experience where an individual has difficulty distinguishing between reality and their imagination. The two main symptoms include hallucinations; seeing or hearing things that are not really there, and delusions; a belief in something that is not true when examined rationally.
As part of my postgraduate research, I conducted a literature review of what is currently understood about young people who have suffered from a first-episode of psychosis, and the factors that facilitate or prevent their help-seeking behaviours. The term ‘help-seeking behaviours’ refers to the actions taken by either the young person or others around them in making a first step to receiving help such as visiting their GP or hospital.
Knowing that adolescent mental health is such a huge, diverse area of psychology I braced myself for the onset of hundreds of papers that I’d then have to read through and critique individually. Therefore, it came as a surprise when I was left with only three published studies on this topic. As it turns out, the help-seeking behaviours of young people with a first-episode of psychosis has been largely under-researched, making it certainly an area worthy of further investigation.
What I did find, however, were two key areas: the barriers and the facilitators to seeking help for a mental health problem. Things that appear to facilitate adolescents in making the first step to seeking help included better mental health education in schools, more awareness campaigns of the signs to look for in identifying a mental health illness and better support links between external youth clubs, schools and GPs. The biggest factor that helped encourage sufferers to seek help was the support of others around them, whether this is family members, carers, friends or school teachers. It is very often the case with psychosis that another person will recognise there’s a problem first. Before the sufferer themselves. Therefore, this has implications for ensuring that better education on mental health exists, that it is accessible to everyone, and that it is in the ‘public eye’ (especially considering mental health affects one in four people and that this makes it extremely likely that everybody knows somebody with a diagnosable condition).
On the other hand, some of the barriers that were identified included the stigma of being diagnosed with a mental health condition and not knowing where to seek help. The biggest barrier, however, was the lack of knowledge of psychosis. This is of particular relevance when looking at adolescents, as many people attribute their episode of psychosis to ‘typical’ teenager angst. It’s shocking that for something so common, and that affects so many people regardless of their age, so little is known and understood about it. It is absolutely vital that young people are taught about the symptoms and signs to look for and to be made aware that certain behaviours will not always be due to their natural development.
Understanding what prevents or facilitates a young person to seek help allows professionals and the Government to work together in order to raise awareness of mental health through education, better resources and public campaigns. As psychosis has a common onset during adolescence, this is the critical group of people who need to be aware and educated about it. The more mental health can be talked about, the bigger its profile can be raised.