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Adolescent experiences of seeking and receiving support at school for significant mental health concerns Semchuk, Jaime


The purpose of the present study was to gain an understanding of adolescent perspectives of seeking and receiving support at school for significant mental health challenges. A review of the literature substantiates that adolescent mental health problems require the attention of researchers, policy makers, and professionals. Currently many adolescents require mental health supports, but do not receive them. The school has been identified as an important access point where mental health supports can be integrated; this has led to the development of many frameworks and programs to allow the school to serve this role. The concept of socially valid research and practice emphasizes the need to determine the acceptability and perceived helpfulness of services by eliciting consumer perspectives. However, there remains a great deal of uncertainty regarding how to most appropriately assess consumer satisfaction for the range of mental health supports. A qualitative approach to inquiry that employs in-depth interviews can address this uncertainty by asking open-ended questions; this approach provides the potential to gain important perspectives that may not be elicited by surveys or other methods of inquiry. Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was the methodological approach used to explore the meaning of adolescents’ experiences seeking and receiving support at school for significant mental health concerns. Four students in Grades 11 and 12 participated in in-depth, semi-structured interviews about their experiences of support. Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed, and analyzed following Smith and colleagues (2009) step-by-step approach for beginning IPA analysts. Three broad themes, seven related sub-themes, and two interwoven themes were identified. Participants discussed both formal and informal experiences of school supports related to supportive relationships, a flexible learning environment, and the school’s potential role as a support system. Interwoven throughout these categories were the guiding values of acknowledging students as individuals, and meeting students where they are at when supporting them at school. Scientific rigor of exploration was ensured through debriefing, member checking, an external audit, and researcher reflexivity. The results are discussed in relation to extant literature, implications for practice, and recommendations for future research.

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