We investigated if reluctance to seek help could be explained by how people perceive an illness. Participants were members of the general public who had experienced mental health problems, for which approximately half had sought professional help. We asked them to rate the problems of 2 vignette characters using the Brief Illness Perception Questionnaire (BIPQ). Participants who had sought help were more likely to see the problems of the vignette characters as having more serious consequences and to understand their problems better, compared with those who had not sought help. The depression vignette character was seen as having a problem that was more serious but less amenable to treatment compared with the anxiety vignette character. Compared with men, women were likely to be more aware of the consequences and chronicity of depression. We conclude illness perceptions may help explain reluctance to seek help and discuss implications for encouraging consultation.