Understanding help-seeking behavior in college students of Mexican origin who are suffering from anxious and/or depressive symptoms
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This study sought to understand why college students of Mexican origin underutilize mental health services (i.e., university counseling services). Previous research has identified several potential reasons for the underutilization of mental health services by Mexican Americans. These reasons can be grouped into one of three categories: (1) negative attitudes toward mental illness and mental health services, (2) greater use of alternative, informal resources, and (3) barriers. To examine these factors in the context of help-seeking behavior, Ajzen’s theory of planned behavior (TPB) was used. The TPB assumes that the best predictor of a certain behavior is an individual’s intention to perform that specific behavior. This model includes three determinants of the intent to perform a certain behavior: (1) attitudes toward the behavior, (2) subjective normative beliefs about performing the behavior, and (3) perceived behavioral control of performing the behavior. The primary aim of this study was to examine the meditating effects of culture on the TPB and investigate the unique factors contributing to help-seeking behavior in college students of Mexican origin reporting anxious and/or depressive symptoms. Results showed that the TPB was effective in predicting help-seeking behavior, with attitudes and subjective normative beliefs as the strongest predictors. Acculturation and cultural values did not mediate the TPB model as originally predicted, however the TPB determinants differed in predictability between help-seekers and non help-seekers. Specifically, among help-seekers, attitudes predicted intent to seek psychological services; among non help-seekers, subjective normative beliefs predicted intent. Help-seekers also reported more ease than non help-seekers on a few of the steps toward help-seeking. Lastly, qualitative measures supported findings based on the TPB and provided additional support for the strong stigmatizing views among college students of Mexican origin. These findings suggest that non help-seekers are a complex group and other variables, such as acculturative stress, perceived social support, and screening participants on perceived symptom distress and impairment, need to be addressed. In addition, subjective normative beliefs need to be considered in the development of psychoeducational interventions which encourage seeking psychological services for individuals of Mexican origin experiencing significant anxious or depressive symptoms.