The prevalence of mental health concerns is widely known and exists across all populations. However, despite the recent popularization of the issue, those who are suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions do not always seek professional help. There are a myriad of studies that look at help-seeking behaviour amongst young people in particular; the vast majority of these look at barriers to help-seeking:
Stigma and embarrassment – stigma and fear of consequences has long been a staple of the resistance to seek help. Despite popular initiatives like Bell’s “Let’s Talk” people are still by and large quite wary to tell someone other than close family or friends for fear of some kind of consequence.
Problems recognizing symptoms and poor mental health literacy – young people in particular, can lack the ability to articulate what is happening for them. They might not have the awareness of their feelings (lack of emotional confidence) and worst yet, they may lack the ability to relate their experience with those of others because they lack knowledge of these issues (lack of mental health literacy).
Preference for self-reliance – regardless of age, many people operate daily with the assumption that in order to be successful they must also be self-reliant. Therefore, to seek help is to admit weakness and an inability to cope with life’s problems is tantamount to being a failure. This is strongly reinforced in many workplaces and social cultures, making it difficult to reach out for help.
Confidentiality and trust – In today’s world of social media, confidentiality and trust issues are of paramount importance. Young people in particular are at risk of being bullied and harassed on online platforms, so they are (and should be) less willing to divulge information that could hurt them. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with mental health only adds to this concern.
Hopelessness - perhaps the one thing that differentiates mental health illness from physical illness is the perceived lack of connection between symptoms and treatment. Most people who are suffering are struggling not only with reaching out for help, but also lack confidence that someone can actually help them feel better.
Some of these studies also point to facilitators for help-seeking. By and large, digital platforms seem to be the way to go with mobile applications being on the forefront of this innovation. The ubiquitous nature of mobile devices lends itself to ease of access, anonymity, immediacy as well as providing information about mental health symptoms and prevalence. All of these are important prerequisites for turning help-seeking intentions into help-seeking behaviour. A mobile application, therefore, represents a viable solution to dealing with barriers to access, particularly if the app is designed to address situational barriers as well; availability of resources, financial concerns, the desire to remain independent and anonymous while reaching out, the need for peer support and virtual support for those who lack mobility or access to transportation.
Finally, COVID-19 has led to a substantial increase in the incidence of mental health concerns. Lock-down fatigue and business closures with the resulting financial and job losses have created an unprecedented need for multiple types of support. It goes without saying this pandemic and its aftermath, digital technologies will play a huge role in defining our new world. The mobile app concept, now more than ever, can be a beacon of positivity and hope for those suffering from mental health concerns.