Background and Objective: Adolescents experiencing mental health problems
often approach their peers rather than seeking professional help. A better understanding of
adolescents’ stigmatising attitudes towards mental illness will help inform interventions that
aim to improve the quality of advice that young people provide to their peers. In particular,
there is a need for research examining adolescents’ attitudes towards alcohol misuse, given
its increase in prevalence during this period as well as the adverse outcomes that are
associated with untreated early drinking problems.
Methods: High-school students (n=2447) were recruited as part of an intervention focussed
on overcoming barriers to accessing help for mental health and substance use problems.
Participants were presented with two vignettes that described a peer experiencing depression
and alcohol misuse, respectively, and completed the General Help-Seeking Questionnaire as
well as a 10-item scale measuring stigmatising attitudes. Past helping behavior was also
Results: Compared to depression, a peer experiencing alcohol misuse was more likely to be
considered “weak” rather than sick, and was perceived as more dangerous and unpredictable.
The “weak-not-sick” and “dangerousness” dimensions of stigma predicted weaker intentions
to encourage help-seeking from informal sources, while ‘dangerousness’ predicted stronger
intentions that encourage formal help-seeking. Both dimensions were associated with fewer
instances of past helping behavior.
Conclusion: Young people stigmatise alcohol misuse more severely than depression.
Overall, stigma was associated with weaker intentions to encourage peers to seek help. While
perceptions of ‘dangerousness’ were associated with stronger intentions to seek help from
formal sources, this association may not translate into actual helping behavior.