People's beliefs about illness, distress and disability profoundly influence their experience of, and responses to, such problems. Medical anthropologists have long recognised the importance of explanatory models of physical illness and the impact of these on the provision and use of health services. Similarly, psychological models of physical illness and related behaviour stress the importance of the ways in which people conceptualise or understand their difficulties. These are central in determining emotional responses to illness, help-seeking and illness-related behaviours, attitudes towards and compliance with treatment. Eisenbruch (1990) argues that, “the culturally constructed ideas held by the patient about the cause and nature of disease” are as important in relation to mental distress and disturbance. Help-seeking behaviour, attitudes towards and compliance with treatment are of central concern in psychiatry and all of these are influenced by people's understandings of their difficulties. Yet relatively little attention has been paid to the ways in which people conceptualise their mental distress.
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