A questionnaire survey was conducted among the participants the Victoria University Students chose to determine whether attitudes towards seeking professional help changed when focusing upon certain situational variables. The 697 participants in this study each completed a questionnaire which evaluated on a 3 point scale their current attitude towards seeking professional counselling services, whether help had been obtained and their future intentions in seeking help. The study specifically focused on two age groups, 18-25 and 55+. Results indicated that females are more likely than males to have positive attitudes towards seeking professional psychological help. Also, consistent with the hypotheses, results also supported that younger adults will have a more positive attitude towards seeking seek than older adults and those with prior experience towards seeking professional help can influence an individual’s future intentions on seeking help. This study attempts to focus upon the situational variables and avoidance factors that may influence attitudes towards seeking professional help.
In a society with improved living standards and better access to healthcare, there is still a growing prevalence of men and women that display certain characteristics in their attitudes towards seeking professional counselling services. It is these people that seem to inhibit themselves from reaching out for beneficial services on a range of mental health issues and circumstances that need attention. Research psychologists and counsellors have reported that there are quite a number of factors and situational variables such as age, gender and prior experience that influence an individual’s attitude on whether to seek professional help and the reluctance one holds attending such services. It is understood that when one experiences psychological distress, only after they have attempted to resolve their issues and failed will they endeavour to seek counselling or psychotherapy services. (Larson, et al., 2007)
Help seeking can be generally defined as the specific behaviour an individual will exhibit when actively seeking help from certain people. Help seeking is a form of coping that opens the doors for communication with other people to gain advice, support and understanding on concerning issues that an individual will attempt to resolve.
Counsellors have identified a number of avoidance factors that seem to directly influence an individual’s pursuit in seeking help. Also identified are situational variables that impact the probability of an individual’s reluctance to seek guidance such as sex/gender, race/ethnicity, treatment setting/treatment issue (Larson, et al., 2007) however, for the purpose of this report, sex/gender, age and prior experience will be focused upon and thoroughly discussed.
The act of seeking professional help can come with many barriers and avoidance issues that seem to gain in intensity when an individual approaches the decision to seek such help. Larson, 2007 has summarised and interpreted the avoidance factors that are accepted by the mental health literature in the attitudes towards help seeking behaviours which include, social stigma (Komiya, Good, &Sherrod, 2000), treatment fears (Deane & Todd, 1996; Kushner & Sher, 1989), fear of emotion (Komiya et al., 2000), anticipated utility and risks (Vogel & Wester, 2003; Vogel, Wester, Wei, & Boysen, 2005), and self-disclosure (Hinson & Swanson, 1993; Vogel & Wester, 2003)
By identifying the above factors, it serves to be a useful function to counsellors that enables them to establish the potential barriers and reluctance towards help seeking.
The attitudes and views held by an individual on help seeking are absolutely crucial and fundamental to their mental health and wellbeing. There is increasing awareness from professional and authoritarian bodies that encourages individuals to recognize the signs for help and to seek services from appropriate sources. Reluctance and attitudes towards seeking help will continue to be an obstacle unless counsellors and other professionals highlight and emphasise the importance of how vital it is to seek help when required. It is hypothesised that women have a more positive attitude towards seeking professional help than men. It is also hypothesised that younger adults will have a more positive attitude towards seeking seek than older adults. Finally, it is hypothesised that prior experience towards seeking professional help can influence an individual’s future intentions on seeking help.
There is growing research and evidence that suggests that the gender of an individual seems to have a correlative link in regards to attitudes towards help seeking. (Larson, et al., 2007) Many studies have concluded that men are more likely to seek professional counselling or psychological support for quite severe psychiatric conditions, (Leaf & Bruce, 1987) whilst women are believed to have a more optimistic view in seeking help and are more inclined to seek help than men. (Fischer & Farina,1995). It is worth mentioning that studies have also expressed that due to the stereotypes placed upon genders and their role within society, it has a direct impact in the attitudes of seeking help. Using the male gender as an example, a preconceived and stereotypical notion of men would suggest that they have a tough interior and succumbing to the thought that professional intervention may be required, can result in feelings of embarrassment and a sign of weakness as they must accept defeat. (Addis & Mahalik, 2003) Another preconceived notion held by society proposes that once all prior attempts at resolving issues have been exhausted, only in this instance is professional help ought to be sought after. (Angermeyer, Matschinger, & Riedel-Heller, 1999) Holding such mentalities may bring the onset of social stigma associated with help seeking behaviours which can ultimately further increase an individuals reluctance in their search for resolutions. This is quite evident in a study that showed that men were more likely to place less important issues aside because of the increased social stigma involved. (Timlin-Scalera, Ponterotto, Blumberg, & Jackson, 2003). It is clearly evident that the above findings support the hypothesis that women are more likely to have a positive attitude towards seeking professional help than men. Despite the results suggesting gender can play a direct role in attitude perceptions, studies of certain age ranges of males and females were also measured to investigate a possible correlation if age influences an individual’s attitudes towards seeking help.
Only a limited amount of research has been conducted investigating the possibility if age seems to play a role in the attitudes towards seeking professional help across different age spans. From the minimal demographic research findings that are available, studies have often used the specific views and attitudes of college educated students who range in 20 years of age and have found that this sample of people are more inclined to show positive attitudes towards seeking help and are more likely to attend services when being compared to individuals of similar age, with no college education and an older age range (Vessey & Howard, 1993). Researches are also quite interested in the attitude perceptions of help seeking behaviours of adolescents and have found that despite counselling services being openly available to the majority of adolescents, there are a number of factors that will influence their intentions of doing so. (Boldero & Fallon, 1995) Quite interestingly, with results similar pertaining to that of adolescents, individuals who ranged 65 years of age or older were also found that in spite of professional assistance being easily accessible, an unwillingness was show in taking advantage of the offered services. (Andrews et al.,2001; Veroff, 1981) An interpretation of this finding can suggest that as a result of the increasing attitude perception of avoidance factors, reluctance can be expected. Due to a lack of basic education, individuals in this age range are not aware in recognizing the signs of when assistance is required for mental issues (Hasin & Link, 1988) and as a result, individuals in this group were more likely to consult with general medical doctors relating their distress being linked to physical problems. (Leaf, Bruce, Tischler, & Holzer, 1987) When comparing both age ranges, those 65 years or older were reported to have increasingly higher negative attitudes towards seeking professional help and counselling services. (Allen,Walker, Shergill, D’ath, & Katona, 1998).
In lieu of the overall findings, the evidence and results clearly support the hypothesis however, age alone doesn’t indicate overall attitudes towards help seeking.
The decision process in which an individual comes to the conclusion that seeking assistance on mental issues has been characterised as a quite complex behaviour and not very straight forward. There are several factors that seem to intervene and delay the onset of progressing further in seeking help. Prior experience in seeking help and treatment is considered to play a major influence on the attitudes and intentions of individuals seeking such services or further increasing their reluctance to treatment. One of the most significant barriers to seeking professional treatment comes under the avoidance factor of social stigma. (Sibicky & Dovidio, 1986; Stefl & Prosperi, 1985). “Social stigma is defined as the fear that others will judge a person negatively if she or he sought help for a problem.” (Deane & Chamberlain, 1994). Due to this preconceived idea, the fear of negative judgement from others deters an individual’s attempt in help seeking (Overbeck, 1977). Studies investigating the relationship between help seeking behaviours and social stigma have concluded not only does social stigma predict ones attitude in seeking treatment, it may also directly affect their future intentions of counselling services. (Deane & Chamberlain, 1994). An experiment conducted by Victoria University in the form of a questionnaire measured participant’s attitudes towards help seeking behaviours and their likely hood on future intentions to attend counselling services. The questionnaire specified and evaluated on a 3 point scale their current attitude towards seeking professional counselling services, whether help had been obtained and their future intentions in seeking help.
The 697 participants in this study consisted of males and females that were not related to the administers of the questionnaires. Of the two genders, there were 348 males and 349 females with ages ranging from 18 to 55+ years old. The study specifically focused two age groups, 18-25 and 55+. The younger age groups of 18-25 had a mean age of 20.59 (SD= 2.9) and 55+ older age group had a mean age of 60.70 (SD=6.62). The two age groups both consisted of subgroups comprising of younger males and females, and older males and females. The younger age group, 18-25, had 180 males with a mean of 20.70 (SD=2.23) and 185 females with a mean of 20.49 (SD=2.15). The older age group, 55+, had 168 males with the mean average of 61.34 (SD=7.25) and 164 females which had a mean age of 60.04 (SD=5.89) 50.1% of participants were born in Australia, 7.0% were born in Europe, 4.2% in Asia, 1.6% in Africa, 1.0% in North America and 34.4% participants did not indicate country of birth. Participation for this study was voluntary.
A questionnaire survey measuring the attitudes towards seeking professional psychological help was the selected medium. The questionnaire was designed to measure the responses of participant’s attitudes towards seeking professional psychological help. The survey consisted of a series of 10 questions all relating to personal attitudes regarding seeking psychological counselling services. Participants were instructed to rate the strength of their agreement to the questions or statement on a scale from 0 (completely disagree) to 3 (completely agree). Scores for each attitude topic could theoretically range from 0 (being the lowest possible score) to 30 (being the maximum possible score.)
A demographic data section was also included in the survey to collect information regarding gender, age, nationality, occupation, country of birth and previous counselling experience.
All students received four copies of the survey questionnaire. They were instructed to recruit 4 participants from the following age ranges of 18-25 and 55+. Chosen participants had to be of strict criteria, one male of 18-25 years old, one female of 18-25 years, one older male of 55+ and one older female of 55+ and must not be related. Participants were instructed to complete the questionnaires and hand them to the students to bring them along to the next designated class. The questionnaires were collected and randomly given to the lecturer. The course lecturer scored and analysed the data using descriptive statistics.
The statistical data analysed from the questionnaires proved that all the hypotheses were supported. Data for gender and age were pooled and results are presented for the combined presentation. As seen below on table 1, results indicate that younger males scored higher than older males on their attitudes towards seeking help with a total mean score of 15.12 (5.58). On the other hand, consistent the hypothesis, females scored much better than males on their attitudes towards seeking professional help with a total means score of 17.17 (4.77).
Age and Gender: The influence on age and gender on the attitudes towards seeking professional help
MALES FEMALES TOTAL
Younger 18 – 30 15.59 17.2 16.41
(5.16) (4.37) (4.83)
Older 55+ 14.59 18.09 16.32
(5.88) (5.16) (5.85)
Total – 15.12 17.16
Note: All numbers in brackets are standard deviations.
Prior Counselling History Results
Results have indicated that those with little counselling experience had a total mean average of 15.4 (5.16). Those with little counselling experience have a total mean average of 17.92 (4.90) and those with a lot of counselling experience had a total mean average of 20.23 (5.27). Consistent with the hypothesis, those who had previous counselling experience were more likely to have positive attitudes towards seeking help in the future and attend future services.
As expected, the questionnaire survey confirmed that females are more likely than males to have positive attitudes towards seeking professional psychological help. Consistent with the hypotheses, results also supported that younger adults will have a more positive attitude towards seeking seek than older adults and those with prior experience towards seeking professional help can influence an individual’s future intentions on seeking help.
The results clearly indicate that there are certain avoidance factors such as social stigma and any preconceived ideas to why the attitudes of men in seeking help have scored lower than that of women. Findings have found that women are believed to have a more optimistic view in seeking help and are more inclined to seek help than men (Fischer & Farina,1995) because men have been reported to only seek help for quite severe psychiatric conditions. (Leaf & Bruce, 1987)
Certain age ranges seem to have a link to the degree in which younger and older generation’s attitude differ in their efforts towards seeking help. It was reported that college educated students who range in 20 years of age are more inclined to show positive attitudes towards seeking help and are more likely to attend services when being compared to individuals of similar age, with no college education and an older age range. An explanation of this could be due to the exposure of college environment and a growing emphasis of the importance of psychological and counselling services (Vessey & Howard, 1993). Older adults not aware in recognizing the signs of when assistance is required for mental issues (Hasin & Link, 1988) and as a result, individuals in this group were more likely to have negative attitudes towards seeking help.
One of the most significant barriers to seeking professional treatment comes under the avoidance factor of social stigma. Due to this preconceived idea, prior experience in seeking help and treatment can be jeopardised because of fear of negative judgement from others which can sometimes deters an individual’s attempt and their attitude in seeking professional help.
Due to the samples being limited to those participants students chose, findings may not apply to other cultural background and also, only two age ranges were focused upon, 18-25 and 55+, in order to gain a better perspective into people attitudes towards seeking professional psychological help, an unrestricted view across the age spectrum would greatly influence the results. Moreover, although the results were approached from the perspective that certain situational variables and avoidance factors may influence people attitudes towards professional help, it can be argued that peoples attitudes towards seeking therapy themselves influence their reluctance in actually attending such services.
Directions for future exploration can include incorporating larger cultural backgrounds to gain a better understanding of different attitudes towards seeking help from a larger population. It would also be beneficial to have an unrestricted view of all ages across the spectrum to see if the attitudes towards seeking help discriminate against only certain ages or if they remain consistent throughout all ages.
Finally, an investigation into all the potential variables that may influence attitudes towards seeking professional therapy should be considered to determine their potential relation with those attitudes.
Overall, results from the study reveal that attitudes towards seeking professional psychological help can change depending on situational variables such as gender, age and prior counselling experience. It should be noted that situational variables seem to influence the attitudes of individuals only to a certain extent, avoidance factors such as social stigma and any preconceived notions can also greatly influence people attitudes towards seeking professional help. Further research should be conducted that incorporates and measures all the known situational variables and avoidance factors and see how the results vary from the present studies accessible now.