Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 40, Issue 9, pp 1118–1131 | Cite as

Examining Perceptions About Mental Health Care and Help-Seeking Among Rural African American Families of Adolescents

  • Velma McBride Murry
  • Craig Anne HeflingerEmail author
  • Sarah V. Suiter
  • Gene H. Brody
Empirical Research


Rural African American children living in poverty have a higher prevalence rate of mental health disorders than their urban counterparts. While access to mental health services is lacking in resource scarce rural communities, African American rural residents may also be the most likely to confront significant barriers to care and help-seeking. Studies of mental health help-seeking behavior among rural families are rare, even rarer are studies of African Americans living in these areas. To address this gap, the current study examined perceptions about help-seeking for adolescents with mental health problems among rural African American families. Data were obtained from African American mothers in rural Georgia to assess their perceptions of the mental health service system, help-seeking processes, and service experiences. A mixed-method approach was implemented, integrating a quantitative survey (n = 163) with qualitative interviews (subsample n = 21). Most of the mothers expressed confidence in mental health care providers’ to help. Preferred sources of support, however, were family, church, and schools. Community stigma towards children with mental health problems and their families was a frequently endorsed perceived barrier to help-seeking. Although cultural mistrust was one of the two most frequently endorsed barriers in the survey, it did not emerge as a universal barrier to help-seeking for the mothers in this sample. Implications for research, policy, and practice include addressing family concerns about stigma, preferences for informal support and non-specialty services in addressing adolescents’ mental health problems, and building community resources to enable all youth to participate in community life.


Adolescents Youth Family Help-seeking Mental health Rural 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Velma McBride Murry
    • 1
  • Craig Anne Heflinger
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sarah V. Suiter
    • 1
  • Gene H. Brody
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Human and Organizational DevelopmentPeabody College of Vanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Center for Family ResearchUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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