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Focal Point: Research, Policy, and Practice in Children’s Mental Health

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Publication Date

Winter 2009


Youth -- Mental illness -- Public opinion, Youth -- Mental illness -- Social aspects, Discrimination against the mentally ill, Stigma (Social psychology)


Illness behavior is the set of purposeful actions taken by someone when faced with being unhealthy. According to Dingwall,3 the three stages of illness behavior are: evaluating symptoms, deciding to act, and monitoring the effects of the chosen actions. Although presented in a linear fashion, these stages are in fact cyclical, as reassessment occurs when symptoms change or unsuccessful actions require new approaches.

However, it is common that people never act, or delay acting, on their symptoms; this is especially true for people experiencing mental distress. Young people in particular are unlikely to seek professional care for mental health concerns—it is estimated that as few as 17 percent of young adults with mental distress will seek professional care for their symptoms.6 Even among those with a clinically defined disorder, only about a third will seek professional help to address their symptoms.


Originally appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Focal Point: Research, Policy, and Practice in Children’s Mental Health.

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