Joyce, David (2012) Text Messaging To Encourage Help-Seeking by College Students Suffering from Psychological Distress. Doctoral thesis, National College of Ireland.
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At any one time, 15% of college students suffer psychological distress. Yet most will not seek help. College counseling services typically see just 4% of students annually. Stigma, concerns over confidentiality and confusion are amonst the barriers to help-seeking.We explore if and how broadcast text messaging can be used to overcome these barriers and facilitate help-seeking. Our studies show that students do not object to receiving regular texts from the college relating to college life provided that such texts do not relate overtly to mental or sexual health.
A field study was carried out whereby texts were sent on a regular basis to all students at a third level institution to encourage help-seeking amongst those suffering psychological distress. A regular stream of texts was sent relating to careers, sports and exams with one in every four texts relating to the college counseling services. The results of the field test show that help-seeking was speeded up and increased.
The disciplines of persuasion, health behaviour change theory, social marketing and captology were used to help design the intervention and explain the results.
Counselling services were reluctant to use this new channel or cooperate in further research on its potential. This led to a questioning of the attitudes of counseling services towards increased help-seeking.
Among the contributions of this research are the findings that students will accept and act on broadcast text messages which encourage mental health help-seeking to the extent that help-seeking is speeded up and increased and the means by which this is accomplished; and the findings that college counselling services do not appreciate the prevalence of psychological distress within colleges and are reluctant to encourage help-seeking.
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