Where do teens turn for help?

It’s Youth Suicide Prevention Week, and while many parents and educators are aware of the issue, connecting teens to the right resources can still be incredibly challenging. Tammy Toscos, research manager, Informatics, shares important findings from a study conducted by the Parkview Research Center (PRC) regarding youth preferences for mental health assistance.

In 2015, the PRC was awarded a competitive research grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the foundation’s “Optimizing value in healthcare: Consumer-focused value trends from the field” program. The project, titled “Perceptions of Telemental Health among Adolescents and Young Adults,” examined the role, benefits and disadvantages of telehealth, the delivery of health-related services and information at a distance via telecommunications technologies, in addressing mental health needs from the adolescent and young adult perspective.

The issue

Our interest stemmed from a report(1) which identified Indiana as having one of the highest rates of teens who had considered or attempted suicide in the United States. This data from 2015 showed that nearly one in five high school students in Indiana had seriously considered attempting suicide.

Psychological distress is one of the most prominent healthcare issues that adolescents confront in the United States.(2) Prior research has shown that most mental health disorders develop before the age of 24 and although nearly 20% of youth report a current problem, many are not receiving treatment.(3) Only 39% of adolescents suffering with depression, 18% with anxiety and 30-45% with suicidality will receive traditional, face-to-face therapy.(4)

Common barriers that youth experience in accessing mental health care include social stigma, lack of information and financial constraints. In our study, we sought to determine how technology might combat these barriers and provide aid to struggling adolescents and young adults, ages 14-24.

The study

Our project was divided into three phases: 1) a Delphi study, which is a method used to gain consensus among experts, 2) focus groups, and 3) a large survey of youth, ages 14-24.

We examined a broad variety of telehealth technologies (TMH), including video conferencing, internet-based applications, internet-based chat software, interactive websites, social media, text message-based interventions and mobile technologies.

Key findings

After concluding our survey study of more than 3,000 youth, we discovered:

  • Most youth are not aware of the existing technology resources for mental health. Less than 20% of college student participants and less than 10% of high school student participants had prior experience with TMH.
  • TMH resources are used and appeal to high risk groups. Youth who scored high on a standardized instrument for anxiety and depression were more likely to be interested in all types of TMH. Self-help technologies were ranked highest among all groups as the form of TMH that youth would be willing to try.
  • Youth seek support from different people depending on the situation, but primarily peers. There was a significant preference for peer-based support even when given the option to select all sources of support. Further, 19% of youth are trying to cope on their own, indicating they feel they do not have anyone to turn to in times of need.
  • Youth seek support both in-person and by using technology, with a preference for in-person. Collective results for the nearly 3,000 youth in our sample reveal a strong preference for in-person support in times of stress. When asked “When you need to talk to someone about your stress or problems, how do you prefer to talk to them?” results show:

54% prefer receiving therapy face-to-face
24% through text or online chat
5% on social media
4% over video chat
4% over phone call

When asked, “Who do youth turn to when they need help?” the responses were

70% friend or peer
45% parent or guardian
14% teacher, guidance counselor or other school staff
19% no one
8% health professional

The takeaways for parents and educators

Telemental Health Technology has promise to help teens in times of emotional distress, especially those who indicated moderate to severe levels of anxiety, depression and/or had previously considered suicide.

Teens still wants to talk face-to-face about difficult things, most often with a peer. They are turning to peers, and their peers are turning to them for help, so they may need assistance learning how to handle tough conversations and know signs of suicidal ideation. Parkview does offer Question. Persuade. Refer. (QPR) classes, which train participants to ask the right questions in mental health situations.

We need to continue to talk about mental health with youth to destigmatize the condition and increase awareness of resources. The Lutheran Foundation leveraged findings from our research project in a grant application to the state of Indiana to implement a program called Sources of Strength. This program will be implemented in 18 local middle/high schools this year. While not involved with the programming, PRC is assisting by acting as an external evaluator to assess the impact of the programming.


If you or someone you know needs help, call the Parkview Behavioral Health HelpLine at (260) 373-7500 or (800) 284-8439, anytime 24 hours a day.





1 Kenny, R. (2017) Suicide in Indiana Report 2011-2015, Indiana State Department of Health.

2 Mojtabai, R., Olfson, M., & Han, B. (2016). National trends in the prevalence and treatment of depression in adolescents and young adults. Pediatrics, e20161878.

3 Heneghan, A., et al., Pediatricians' role in providing mental health care for children and adolescents: do pediatricians and child and adolescent psychiatrists

agree? J Dev Behav Pediatr, 2008. 29(4): p. 262-9

4 Essau, C.A., J. Conradt, and F. Petermann, Course and outcome of anxiety disorders in adolescents. J Anxiety Disord, 2002. 16(1): p. 67-81.

3. Informatics study highlight: Examining the use of telehealth to address mental health of adolescent and young adults






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