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Mothers seeking mental health services for their children: A qualitative analysis of pathways to care

Singer, Jonathan Bentley (2009) Mothers seeking mental health services for their children: A qualitative analysis of pathways to care. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Approximately 20% of youth meet criteria for a psychiatric disorder. Despite the availability of effective community-based psychosocial treatments, nearly 80% of youth with a psychiatric disorder do not receive treatment. In the United States, parents (typically mothers) are primarily responsible for accessing mental health services for their child. Consequently, researchers have suggested that one of the most promising ways to close the gap between unmet need and service use for youth is to improve our understanding parental help-seeking. However, our understanding of parental help-seeking has been limited by the dominance of atheoretical studies that focus on the characteristics of help-seekers, problem-types, and service locations, that are useful in establishing public health policy but have limited application to front line service delivery. Consequently, almost no research has examined the process that mothers go through - the how and why - to seek mental health services for their children.This dissertation sought to describe and characterize the perceptions and experiences of mothers who accessed mental health services for their child. This study is a qualitative secondary analysis of a random selection of 60 of 127 interviews gathered from mothers 3 months after accessing mental health services. Grounded theory analysis was used to code the interviews and identify themes and patterns. The analysis suggested that mothers went through four stages of help-seeking: 1) recognizing a problem: mothers became concerned about their child's behaviors and then tried to identify the cause of the behaviors; 2) responding to the problem: mothers identified six coping strategies they used to try and resolve their child's problem(s). 3) using mental health services (MHS): mothers identified the type and modality of treatment they received, their mode of entry into services, and their reasons for seeking services; 4) evaluating services: mothers determined if the pathway had terminated, deviated, or changed. The current research suggests that existing models of help-seeking have utility in understanding the experience of mothers seeking mental health services for their child. A four-stage model was identified: 1) recognizing a problem; 2) responding to the problem; 3) using mental health services; and 4) evaluating services. Implications for research and practice are discussed.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Singer, Jonathan
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairGreeno, Catherine Ggreenocg@upmc.eduKGREENO
Committee MemberNewhill, Christinanewhill@pitt.eduNEWHILL
Committee MemberMaguire, Lambertburt@pitt.eduBURT
Committee MemberEstroff,
Date: 6 May 2009
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 21 April 2009
Approval Date: 6 May 2009
Submission Date: 1 May 2009
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Social Work > Social Work
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: grounded theory; help-seeking; mental health services; mothers; pathways to care; qualitative; secondary analysis; services research; theory
Other ID:, etd-05012009-161241
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:43
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2016 14:35


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