Exploring Parental Mental Health Literacy: Research Survey Participants Sought

By Rebecca Bonanno, mentor, SUNY Empire State College

August 27, 2015

Girl sitting on the ground, an image focused on her sneakers More American children struggle with mental health issues than ever before and many parents are unsure where and how to find help. According to a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control, 13-20 percent of children in the U.S. will experience a mental health disorder in a given year. Empire State College faculty members Rebecca Bonanno, Ph.D., and Jordan Wright, Ph.D., are interested in finding out what parents know and believe about child and teen mental health problems and where their information comes from. These questions are part of mental health literacy; that is, knowledge and beliefs about mental health disorders which help people to recognize and find treatment for them. If parents have low mental health literacy, they are less likely to pick up on early warning signs of issues like anxiety or ADHD and may not realize that treatments for these conditions are available, therefore reducing the likelihood that their children will get help when they need it. To learn more about parental mental health literacy, Bonanno and Wright are conducting a survey of parents with children ages 4 through 18. They hope that the research results will help mental health professionals and policy makers design programs to increase mental health literacy. Studies like this have been conducted in Australia, but little is known about American parents’ knowledge and attitudes about child mental health.

Both Bonanno and Wright are licensed psychotherapists who treat children and adults in their communities. “In my own practice, I have worked with many parents who are completely at a loss as to what is happening with their children,” says Bonanno, a clinical social worker. “They are told by the schools that their children are having emotional or behavioral problems and that they should ‘get help.’ But what does that really mean to the parents? To whom do they turn when their children have mental health problems like ADHD or depression? We hope our research will provide some answers about what families do and don’t know about these issues.”

Bonanno also is planning to conduct focus groups with parents in her own community on Long Island to learn about the best ways to provide information and resources about child mental health. “It is not enough to know how parents get information. We also want to find out their preferences,” she says. “Do they want to learn about these issues in person, through talks and workshops? Or would they prefer written material in pamphlets and on websites? Video can also be very effective. I want to know how we can get this information to families in ways that are meaningful to them.”

If you are a parent of a child age 4-18 and would like to participate in this research survey, you can find it at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/mhlparent.

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Layla Abdullah-Poulos

Kimberly Balko

Rebecca Bonanno

Kristina Delbridge

Helen Edelman

John Foley

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