Many studies have demonstrated that the majority of young people with suicidal ideas or who have self-harmed do not seek professional help.
This is of concern given that young people with suicidal thoughts or self-harm often require treatment for mental illness as well as to reduce their risk of completed suicide.
Insufficient Help from Peers and Parents
Young people with suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviors tend to seek informal help from peers and family. However, such informal helps may not suffice to help the struggling young people.
Most young people with suicidal ideas or who have self-harmed seek informal help from their social network, and that this is most commonly a peer.
However, when facing a suicidal or self-harmed peer, young people are reluctant to seek help for this peer from adults or professional services.
The reasons include that they may have fears that their peer would be hospitalized, or they worry that if a wrong judgment is made, their peer would get angry, and that their friendship would be damaged.
Family members are also important sources of informal help for young people with suicidal thoughts or self-harm.
But an issue is that many parents are unaware of their child’s suicidal thoughts or self-harm, or they believe that it would be harmful to ask young people with mental health problems whether they were experiencing suicidal ideas.
It is also found that prior to receiving treatment, parents delayed seeking help as they underestimated the significance of the problem and thought that it might resolve of its own accord.
Factors Influencing Help-Seeking Behaviors
Various variables may influence mental health service uses. Such variables include age, gender, psychopathology, and functional impairment as well as family variables including parental education level and mental illness.
- Age. Older age groups are more likely to seek help for their suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
- Ethnicity. Adolescents from an ethnic minority are less likely to seek suicidal counseling.
- Alcohol and Illicit Drug Use. Alcohol misuse (in girls) and use of illicit drugs (in boys) are independently associated with professional help-seeking for self-harm.
- Family Factors. Parental detection of self-harm increases professional help-seeking.
Other barriers to help-seeking include the expectation that one should be self-reliant and able to cope with one’s problems without help, or the perception that the self-harming behavior was not serious and that help would not be beneficial.
Lisa Michelmore, et al. 2012. “Help-Seeking for Suicidal Thoughts and Self-Harm in Young People: A Systematic Review.” In Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 42(5): 507-524.
E. Engin, et al. 2009. “University students’ suicidal thoughts and influencing factors.” In Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 16: 343–354.