Sociodemographic differences in barriers to mental health care among college students at elevated suicide risk

Adam G. Horwitz, Taylor McGuire, Danielle R. Busby, Daniel Eisenberg, Kai Zheng, Jacqueline Pistorello, Ronald Albucher, William Coryell, Cheryl A. King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Background: College student mental health (MH) problems and suicide risk have steadily increased over the past decade and a significant number of students with MH problems do not seek treatment. While some barriers to mental health care service utilization (MHSU) have been identified, very little is known regarding how these barriers differ among sociodemographic subgroups of students. Method: Participants were 3,358 college students from four US universities who screened positive for elevated suicide risk (defined as 2 or more of: depression, alcohol misuse, suicidal ideation, suicide attempt) and were not actively receiving MH services. Reported barriers to MHSU were categorized into: Low perceived need, privacy/stigma concerns, questioning helpfulness of treatment, logistics, time constraints, finances, and cultural issues. Results: Adjusted odds ratios indicated that finances were a greater barrier for women, sexual and gender minority students, and Black and Hispanic students. Privacy/stigma concerns were more prominent for men and young undergraduate students. White students and older undergraduate and graduate students were more likely to report a lack of time, and cultural sensitivity issues were significant barriers for sexual and gender minority, and racial/ethnic minority, students. Limitations: Participating sites were not nationally representative. The barriers assessment did not examine the degree to which a specific barrier contributed to lack of MHSU relative to others. Conclusions: In light of the significant variation in barriers based on age, gender identity, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation, efforts to increase MHSU should be tailored to meet the unique needs of specific sociodemographic student subgroups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-130
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - Jun 15 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Barriers to care
  • College students
  • Service utilization
  • Sociodemographic differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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