How Cultural Capital Shapes Mental Health Care Seeking in College

Billings & Young / Sociological Perspectives / September 2021

First-generation and working-class undergraduates not only experience mental health problems at higher rates than their more affluent peers, but are also less likely to seek treatment. The authors administered a mixed-methods survey to undergraduates at two institutions to investigate the relationship between cultural capital and mental health decision-making. Using two measures of cultural capital, the authors find that students with high cultural capital are more likely to seek mental health treatment than those with limited cultural capital. Additionally, analysis of the study's qualitative results reveals that while students with limited cultural capital make treatment decisions through a collectivistic lens (considering other people’s needs and opinions), those with high cultural capital tend to view treatment decisions through an individualistic lens (considering their own needs and opinions). These lenses capture both the barriers and facilitators to mental health care that students cite to explain their decision-making. Understanding how cultural capital shapes orientations to mental health care is necessary to facilitate help-seeking for students from all social class backgrounds.