Sarah Boyles

Sarah Boyles

  • University of Ulster
  • Communication
Participant in 2008

Phd Projects


The Role of Stigma in the Initial Stages of Help-Seeking for Psycho-Emotional Concerns.

There is an escalating resource of empirical research showing that therapeutic intervention is beneficial for many individuals experiencing common types of psychological concerns. Emerging adulthood is highlighted as a time most sensitive to anxiety and stress; a time liable to generate psychological problems that force some young adults to cope at a level to which they are not equipped to handle. Literature identifies serious consequences for the individuals who fail to manage psychoemotional concerns, including increased likelihood of substance abuse, behavioural problems and suicide. However, young adulthood is not a monolithic group, as current research highlights that students may experience more stress and distress than non-students of a similar age. A finding that explains significant drop-out rates of first year students, as failure to manage psycho-emotional concerns has been linked to the impairment of social, academic and occupational functioning. Voluntary, public and private sector services responding to the mental health needs of young people may be accessed by some sufferers; however the balance of those needing and those seeking treatment has yet to be found. Social psychologists have identified ‘perceived stigma’ as the most dominant factor impacting upon help-seeking for psycho-emotional problems. In response, the overall aim of this investigation is to explore the stigmatic attitudes of students in seeking professional psychological care. This will involve ascertaining students’ perceptions of seeking psychological help, and making recommendations to service providers that aim to alter help-seeking behaviours of students. The sensitive nature of this topic impacted upon sampling procedures and reiterated the ricochet feature of investigating a stigmatised phenomenon. A mixed methodology approach was utilized in the form of a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews. The 498 completed questionnaires enabled observations of a consensus regarding aspects related to attitudes towards mental well-being and seeking professional psychological help. The 30 semi-structured interviews afforded a collection of narrative accounts to explore the dominant attitudes held by participating students. Findings illuminate how social psychological processes encompassing ‘the first year experience’ cultivate stigmatic perceptions regarding help-seeking for psycho-emotional concerns. Perceived stigma was found to significantly impact upon a student’s decision to seek professional care. The study concludes by exploring issues surrounding the implementation of specialist knowledge of obstacles to help-seeking.

Go back