Adolescent construction of mental illness: implications for engagement

Katharine Chisholm, Paul Patterson, Sheila Greenfield, Erin Turner, Max Birchwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding how adolescents perceive mental illness is important for clinicians wishing to improve engagement, and for the development of educational programmes and health‐behaviour directed policies. The current research aimed to develop a preliminary model of how adolescents perceive mental illness and construct their understanding of mental health.

Forty‐six participants aged 11–18 from six schools in Birmingham, UK, took part in one of 12 group interviews.

A thematic analysis highlighted a dual perception of mental illness. Adolescents discussed stereotypes and extreme examples of illness, but also displayed an insightful understanding of mental distress which had developed through participants' own experiences. Participants attempted to reconcile and negotiate these conflicting perceptions by creating distinctions between concepts of ‘craziness’ and ‘normality’, and reported experiencing negative emotions relating to both perceptions of illness.

The findings suggest that once media stereotypes have been acknowledged, adolescents demonstrate a relatively sophisticated understanding of mental illness, although one which differed at times from the diagnostic medical model of mental illness. Focusing on individual symptoms, prevalence rates and prior contact adolescents have had with individuals with mental illnesses provides a framework to discuss mental health and ill‐health with adolescents.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)626-636
JournalEarly Intervention in Psychiatry
Issue number4
Early online date11 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Chisholm, K. , Patterson, P. , Greenfield, S. , Turner, E. and Birchwood, M. (2018), Adolescent construction of mental illness: implication for engagement and treatment. Early Intervention in Psychiatry, 12: 626-636, which has been published in final form at  This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.


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