Labels used by young people to describe mental disorders: which ones predict effective help-seeking choices?

  • Annemarie WrightEmail author
  • Anthony F. Jorm
  • Andrew J. Mackinnon
Original Paper



Mental disorders are common in young people, yet many do not seek help. Being able to label the problem may facilitate effective help-seeking, but it is not clear which labels are best. This study aims to examine which labels commonly used by young people are associated with a preference for recommended sources of help and treatment.


A national telephone survey was conducted with a randomly selected sample of 2,802 Australian young people aged 12–25 years. Respondents were read out one of three vignettes describing symptoms of a mental disorder, and asked a series of questions regarding labelling of the problem described and related help-seeking preferences and beliefs. Binary logistic regression analyses were used to measure the association between type of label used and help-seeking preferences and beliefs.


Use of the accurate label to describe the problem in the vignette predicted a preference for recommended sources of help with greater consistency than any other labels commonly used by young people. Inaccurate mental health labels did predict some preferences for recommended sources of help and treatment, but not to the extent of the accurate label. Lay labels such as “stress”, “paranoid” and “shy” predicted less intention to seek any help for the problem described in the vignette.


Labelling a disorder accurately does predict a preference for recommended sources of help and a belief in the helpfulness of recommended treatments. Importantly, it is also apparent that some commonly used lay labels cannot do this and indeed may limit appropriate help-seeking and treatment acceptance.


Labelling Help-seeking Youth Depression Psychosis Social phobia 



Financial support was provided by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Sidney Myer Health Fund, the Colonial Foundation, and “beyondblue: the national depression initiative”. Amy Morgan and Anna Kingston assisted with components of the data analysis. Nicholas Allen provided advice regarding data analysis and development of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Annemarie Wright
    • 1
    Email author
  • Anthony F. Jorm
    • 1
  • Andrew J. Mackinnon
    • 1
  1. 1.Orygen Youth Health Research Centre, Centre for Youth Mental HealthThe University of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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