Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Vicky Phares, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Brannick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

James Epps, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ellis Gesten, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joseph Vandello, Ph.D.


Children, Mental Health, Disparities, Vignettes, Ethnic Identity


The underutilization of mental health services is a pervasive problem that persists despite efforts by researchers and interventionists to make treatment accessible. Several factors have been hypothesized to contribute to these underutilization rates including sociopolitical factors (financial and structural barriers), and cultural/familial factors (race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, age, marital status, attitudes, beliefs, and stigma). The current study set out to explore patterns of child mental health service utilization based on parents' perceptions. Guided by "The Youth Help-Seeking and Service Utilization Model," the relationship between parental problem recognition and willingness to seek formal and informal help as influenced by parents' demographic variables, sociocultural beliefs, experience, perceived need, family characteristics, and barriers were examined. Parental perceptions of problem behaviors in children were examined through the use of 3 vignettes (internalizing, externalizing, and no diagnosis conditions) varying only by child gender. A total of 251 Black and White parents from the community participated in this study. Data analyses involved correlations, t-tests, general linear modeling procedures (including ANOVA, ANCOVA, and multiple regressions), non-parametric tests, and logistic regression analyses. As hypothesized, results revealed that more parents recognized the internalizing and externalizing vignettes as problematic, parents reported stronger intentions to seek help when they recognized a mental health problem, and they were more willing to seek help for a boy with an internalizing problem than a girl. Additionally, perceived severity was related to recognition of both internalizing and externalizing problems. Gender, race, and previous experience were related to parents' recognition and willingness to seek help; with mothers, white parents, and those with more experience recognizing problems and expressing willingness to seek help for an internalizing problem. Finally, perception of barriers and certain beliefs impacted parents' willingness to seek help. The implications of this study with respect to help-seeking patterns for youth will be discussed. In addition, results will be discussed with an eye toward service providers' and intervention researchers' shaping the referral process, keeping families in treatment, and developing strategies aimed at improving problem recognition and help-seeking with eventual goals of increasing actual utilization of mental health services for mothers, fathers, and their children.