Clearing a Path to Mental Health: Findings from the Born Brave Experience Study

APA Convention“You will have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”  ~ Robin Williams

The recent news of Robin Williams’ suicide serves as a stark reminder that more than 100 Americans take their own lives on a daily basis. We know that depression is an illness and, as such, can be effectively treated with various combinations of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy. So why do societal stigmas against discussing mental illness continue to persist?

The Empowerment Initiative and the Born This Way Foundation (BTWF) believe it’s time to have open conversations about mental health – particularly the need to invest in effective training and treatment. In this spirit, we recently presented results from the 2013 Born Brave Experience Study at the American Psychological Association Convention.

We’ve sought to understand how young people, especially those ages 13 to 25, prefer to get help. To do so, we conducted an online survey of 2,645 young people, finding that preferred methods of mental health service delivery vary widely according to age, gender, sexual orientation, and levels of anxiety or depression. Moreover, the study revealed a chasm between the desires of those seeking help and the services available to them.

  • Overall preference against help via telephone: Despite the prevalence of traditional phone hotlines, talking on the phone is the least preferred form of seeking help. Regardless of gender, grade, sexual orientation, anxiety or depression score, less than 16% of respondents listed phone calls as their preferred method of communication.
  • Difference in preference based on age: Junior high and high school students prefer online communication/text messaging (46.6%), whereas college and post-college individuals prefer to talk face-to-face (55.1%).
  • Difference in preference based on sexual orientation: Individuals who identify as straight and gay/lesbian prefer to talk in person (56.2% and 50.6%, respectively). Queer/questioning or bisexual individuals prefer online communication/text messaging (47.3% and 43.7%, respectively).
  • Difference in preference based on location: Individuals who live in cities favored talking in person (53.8%) to online communication/text messaging or phone calls. Those in rural or suburban areas generally favored talking face-to-face (47.5% and 47.8%, respectively) or using online communication/text messaging (43.2% and 43.7%, respectively), with comparatively few preferring phone calls (9.3% and 8.6%, respectively).
  • Highly depressed non-gendered preferences: Individuals who do not identify as male or female and exhibit high depression scores strongly prefer online communication/text messaging (64.7%) to phone calls (5.9%) or talking in person (29.4%).

These data show that youth need access to mental health options that differ from those typically provided. States’ mental health policies sometimes limit online or text messaging help, as mental health providers may reside in different jurisdictions than the individuals seeking help.

It’s imperative that state licensing agencies modernize their service-delivery options to best reach those in need. BTWF co-founder Cynthia Germanotta said she believes the study can help achieve this overdue goal.

“We will use the data to help service providers and policymakers better create the conditions by which young people access mental health services. Encouraging youth to love who they are and live their lives bravely means communicating with them in the ways they are most comfortable,” Germanotta said. “This study is the first step in creating the adult scaffolding for young people to thrive and validates the three pillars of the Born This Way Foundation: safety, skills and opportunities for youth.”

We live in an era of unprecedented connections both personal and technological. Our findings suggest that understanding and facilitating multiple forms of support is vital for mental health wellness. The statistics on depression and suicide suggest that we need to create more connections – in person and online – to adequately offer the support people need to live kinder and braver lives.

Sue Swearer
Founder, Empowerment Initiative

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