Help-Seeking Intentions Among Asian American and White American Students in Psychological Distress: Application of the Health Belief Model

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Abstract

Objective: Underutilization of needed mental health services continues to be the major mental health disparity affecting Asian Americans (Sue, Cheng, Saad, & Chu, 2012). The goal of this study was to apply a social psychological theoretical framework—the health belief model (Rosenstock, 1966)—to understand potential reasons why Asian Americans underutilize mental health services relative to White Americans. Method: Using a cross-sectional online questionnaire, this study examined how perceived severity of symptoms, perceived susceptibility to mental health problems, perceived benefits of treatment, and perceived barriers to treatment influenced intentions to seek help among a sample of 395 Asian American and 261 White American students experiencing elevated levels of psychological distress. Results: Analyses using structural equation modeling indicated that Asian Americans in distress had relatively lower intentions to seek help compared with White Americans. Perceived benefits partially accounted for differences in help-seeking intentions. Although Asian Americans perceived greater barriers to help seeking than did White Americans, this did not significantly explain racial/ethnic differences in help-seeking intentions. Perceived severity and barriers were related to help-seeking intentions in both groups. Conclusions: Outreach efforts that particularly emphasize the benefits of seeking mental health services may be a particularly promising approach to address underutilization. The findings have implications in help-seeking promotion and outreach.

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