Adolescents’ approaches to seeking help from informal helpers

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University of New Brunswick


Adolescents generally turn to informal helpers (e.g., their mother, friends) for assistance when they have personal problems (Rickwood et al., 2005). Research has distinguished between three approaches to seeking help (i.e., autonomous, dependent, and avoidance) (Komissarouk et al., 2017; Newman, 2008), but little information is available on adolescents’ engagement in these approaches. This study examined adolescents’ use of the three approaches with their mother and a close friend for a personal problem by investigating the relationships between adolescents’ use of each approach and (1) the frequency of their help-seeking behaviour, (2) established correlates of help seeking, and (3) markers of autonomy development. Adolescents (N= 299) enrolled in two high schools completed an anonymous survey at school. Results indicated that autonomous help seeking was adolescents’ preferred approach across the two helpers, while the relative use of dependent help seeking and avoidance of help seeking differed for each helper. All three approaches were linked to the frequency of their help seeking from both helpers. Regression and commonality analyses showed that positive relationship quality with each helper provided a foundation for adolescents’ use of each help-seeking approach that was supported by other established correlates of help seeking (e.g., gender norms, self-disclosure skills). A parallel pattern for the autonomy variables showed that autonomy support from each helper provided a basis for using each approach that was supported primarily by adolescents’ cognitive autonomy. The established correlates of help seeking accounted for considerable variance in adolescents’ use of specific approaches whereas the autonomy variables accounted for much less variance. There were similarities and differences across the two helpers in the variables that were associated with adolescents’ use of specific approaches. These results highlight substantial diversity in how young people use help seeking to manage a personal problem. This diversity reflects complex combinations of individual and relationship characteristics whose importance varies when different informal helpers are involved. They also suggest ways in which intervention programs to promote adaptive help seeking can be strengthened.