Help-Seeking Patterns of Young Adults Focus of New Study

Identifying Key Points for Engaging Young People into Mental Health Treatment

According to Sarah Narendorf, an assistant professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, young adults with untreated mental disorders often find themselves seeking urgent care through expensive, psychiatric emergency room services.

By exploring the multiple factors that contribute to episodes of crisis care for young adults, Narendorf plans to identify how to engage young adults in treatment prior to the point of crisis.

She explores this topic in a new research study funded by a $19,250 grant from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health titled, “Young Adults Accessing Psychiatric Emergency Services: Exploring Help-Seeking Patterns and Preferences for Treatment.”

“While the incidence of mental disorders peaks during young adulthood, the rate of mental health service use declines by almost 50 percent from late adolescence to young adulthood,” Narendorf said. “Young adults who access psychiatric crisis services are often those that have been unable or unwilling to engage in less intensive outpatient services. This study is a first step in understanding the dynamics that lead young adults with mental health disorders to a crisis point.”

The aim of the study is to identify key points of intervention for young people with mental health problems prior to crisis care. Narendorf will collect data through qualitative interviews with young adults who have accessed crisis services in Harris County’s Neuropsychiatric Center (NPC). The study will examine qualitative narratives with forty young adults, ages 18-25, to explore the contribution of:

  • individual factors (gender, race, perceived perceptions and self-stigmatizing attitudes creating embarrassment and fear of identifying with a mental illness)
  • access factors (transportation, health insurance, location of mental health support groups or facilities)
  • social network factors (friends, family, community helpers)
  • structure of the mental health service system
  • service use patterns ending in psychiatric emergency service use

Narendorf will explore the young adults’ experiences and preferences for mental health treatments, including the type of treatment, such as medication versus therapy, location, and involvement in treatment decisions to develop consumer-oriented models for promoting treatment engagement.

The research project by Narendorf was one of 10 selected from a pool of 38 applicants from 17 universities across Texas. The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health awarded the two-year grants, totaling $192,130 to tenure-track assistant professors exploring different aspects of mental health in Texas.

“Young people are a particularly underserved population and Dr. Narendorf’s study on the treatment seeking behavior of young adults will help provide information about how mental health care can be improved for these individuals,” said Octavio N. Martinez, Jr., executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.

The goals of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health grants are to increase the pool of junior faculty conducting quality mental health research and to encourage the disbursement of research findings throughout the mental health community through presentations at state and national conferences and meetings.