Mental health literacy
Mental health literacy has been defined as “knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid their recognition, management or prevention. Mental health literacy includes the ability to recognize specific disorders; knowing how to seek mental health information; knowledge of risk factors and causes, of self-treatments, and of professional help available; and attitudes that promote recognition and appropriate help-seeking.”
Mental health literacy of the public
Because of the high prevalence of mental disorders over the lifetime, it has been argued that everyone will either develop one of these disorders themselves or have close contact with someone else who does. Consequently, members of the public need to have some knowledge to allow them to recognize, prevent and seek early help for mental disorders. They also need to have the skills to support other people in their social network who develop a mental disorder.
Surveys of the public have been carried out in a number of countries to investigate mental health literacy. These surveys show that recognition of mental disorders is lacking and reveal negative beliefs about some standard psychiatric treatments, particularly medications. On the other hand, psychological, complementary and self-help methods are viewed much more positively. Negative attitudes towards people with mental disorders have been found, such as viewing them as having a weak character. These beliefs and attitudes are potential barriers to seeking optimal professional help and being supportive of others.
Approaches to improving mental health literacy
A number of approaches have been tried to improve mental health literacy, many of which have evidence of effectiveness. These include:
1. Whole of community campaigns. Examples are beyondblue and the Compass Strategy in Australia, the Defeat Depression Campaign in the United Kingdom, and the Nuremberg Alliance Against Depression in Germany.
2. School-based interventions. These include MindMatters and Mental Illness Education in Australia.
3. Individual training programs. These include mental health first aid training and training in suicide prevention skills.
4. Websites and books aimed at the public. There is evidence that both websites and books can improve mental health literacy. However, the quality of information on websites can sometimes be low.
References and notes
- Jorm, A.F., Korten, A.E., Jacomb, P.A., Christensen, H., Rodgers, B. & Pollitt, P. (1997). “Mental health literacy”: a survey of the public’s ability to recognise mental disorders and their beliefs about the effectiveness of treatment. Medical Journal of Australia, 166, 182-186.
- Angermeyer, M.C. & Matschinger, H. (2005). Have there been any changes in the public’s attitudes towards psychiatric treatment? Results from representative population surveys in Germany in the years 1990 and 2001. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 111, 68-73.
- Jorm, A.F., Nakane, Y., Christensen, H., Yoshioka, K., Griffiths, K.M. & Wata, Y. (2005). Public beliefs about treatment and outcome of mental disorders: a comparison of Australia and Japan. BMC Medicine, 3, 12.
- Jorm, A.F., Angermeyer, M. & Katschnig, H. (2000). Public knowledge of and attitudes to mental disorders: A limiting factor in the optimal use of treatment services. In G. Andrews & A.S. Henderson (Eds.) Unmet Need in Psychiatry. (pp. 399-413). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Lauber, C., Nordt, C., Falcato, L., & Rössler, W. (2003). Do people recognise mental illness? Factors influencing mental health literacy. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 253, 248-251.
- Magliano, L., Fiorillo, A., De Rosa, C., Malangone, C., & Maj, M. (2004). Beliefs about schizophrenia in Italy: A comparative nationwide survey of the general public, mental health professionals, and patients’ relatives. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 49, 322-330.
- Wang, J.L., Adair, C., Fick, G., Lai, D., Evans, B., Perry, B.W., Jorm, A. & Addington, D. (2007). Depression literacy in Alberta: Findings from a general population sample. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 52, 442-449.
- Marie, D., Forsyth, D. & Miles, L.K. (2004). Categorical ethnicity and mental health literacy in New Zealand. Ethnicity and Health, 9(3), 225-252.
- Jorm, A.F., Christensen, H. & Griffiths, K.M. (2005). The impact of beyondblue: the national depression initiative on the Australian public’s recognition of depression and beliefs about treatments. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 39, 248-254.
- Wright, A., McGorry, P.D., Harris, M.G., Jorm, A.F. & Pennell, K. (2006). Development and evaluation of a youth mental health community awareness campaign: The Compass Strategy. BMC Public Health, 6, 215.
- Paykel, E.S., Hart, D., & Priest, R.G. (1998). Changes in public attitudes to depression during the Defeat Depression Campaign. British Journal of Psychiatry, 173, 519-522.
- Hegerl, U., Althaus, D., & Stefanek, J. (2003). Public attitudes towards treatment of depression: Effects of an information campaign. Pharmacopsychiatry, 36, 288-291.
- MindMatters Evaluation Consortium (2000). Report of the MindMatters (National Mental Health in Schools Project) Evaluation Project, vols 1-4. Newcastle: Hunter Institute of Mental Health.
- Rickwood, D., Cavanagh, S., Curtis, L. & Sakrouge, R. (2004). Educating young people about mental health and illness: Evaluating a school-based programme. International Journal of Health Promotion, 6, 23-32.
- Kitchener, B.A. & Jorm, A.F. (2006). Mental Health First Aid training: review of evaluation studies. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40, 6-8.
- Pearce, K., Rickwood, D. & Beaton, S. (2003). Preliminary evaluation of a university-based suicide intervention project: Impact on participants. Australian e-Journal for the Advancement of Mental Health, 2, www.auseinet.com/journal/vol2iss1/Pearce.pdf.
- Christensen, H., Griffiths, K.M., & Jorm, A.F. (2004). Delivering interventions for depression by using the internet: randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal, 328, 265.
- Jorm, A.F., Griffiths, K.M., Christensen, H., Korten, A.E., Parslow, R.A. & Rodgers, B. (2003). Providing information about the effectiveness of treatment options to depressed people in the community: A randomized controlled trial of effects on mental health literacy, help-seeking and symptoms. Psychological Medicine, 33, 1071-1087.
- Griffiths, K.M. & Christensen, H. (2002). The quality and accessibility of Australian depression sites on the World Wide Web. Medical Journal of Australia, 176, S97-S104.