Parental recognition of preadolescent mental health problems: Does stigma matter?

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Elsevier B.V.


Parents are one of several key gatekeepers to mental health (MH) services for adolescents with MH problems. Parental MH stigma is a significant barrier to treatment, yet little is known about how stigma may bias parental recognition of mental illness in youth.

This study examines how stigma influences a critical and early stage of the help-seeking process—the recognition of MH problems in preadolescents by their parents.

Parents from a school-based anti-stigma intervention study were analyzed. Logistic regressions examined the association of stigma with parental recognition of MH problems in their preadolescent child (10–12 years old) and that of two preadolescent vignette characters described as having bipolar disorder and social anxiety disorder.

The more parents desired their preadolescent child to avoid interaction with individuals with a mental illness—that is, to be more socially distant—the less likely these parents believed their child had a MH problem, controlling for parent-reported MH symptoms and other covariates. This pattern was prominent among parents who reported high symptoms in their child. Social distance had no bearing on whether parents recognized the vignette characters as having a problem. Avoidance of individuals with a mental illness and knowledge/positive MH attitudes were not associated with problem recognition.

Stigmatizing attitudes of parents may be detrimental when trying to understand the psychopathology of their own preadolescent children but not preadolescents outside their family. Stigma may present itself as a barrier to problem recognition because it may impose a significant personal cost on the family, thereby affecting the help-seeking process earlier than considered by previous work.