Mental Health Literacy

If anyone wants to take hold of the essence of mental health literacy, he/she ought to comprehend its definition at the onset. What is the definition then? It 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."

Let's talk of the pertinent facets now. In accordance with the consideration of experts, on account of the high predominance of mental disorders over the lifetime everyone will develop one of these disorders themselves and if the concerned person is not affected in this manner, he/she will certainly have close contact with someone else who does. What should be done then? More and more people should get acquainted with the central idea and this is possible in the form of acquiring knowledge. This will enable them to recognize, prevent and seek early help for mental disorders. In addition, there is the growing need of skills to support other people in their social network who develop a mental disorder.

It is necessary to mention that Anthony Jorm was the first person to introduce the term mental health literacy in Australia. It is derived from the term health literacy, originally defined as a functional capacity related to basic literacy skills and how these affect the ability of people to access and use health information.

What has been this concept's rate of advancement in other countries? Well, lots of surveys have already been carried out in several countries to make proper investigation on mental health literacy. What have been the outcomes of these surveys? They have brought to the fore a new scenario. It states very clearly that acknowledgment of mental disorders is deficient and reveals negative beliefs about some standard psychiatric treatments, for the most part medications. This becomes more prominent since psychological, complementary and self-help methods, in contrast, are viewed much more positively.

On the other hand, it is found, though certainly not desirable, negative attitudes towards people with mental disorders are expressed often and they are viewed as persons of weak characters. Nevertheless it should be remembered that these beliefs and attitudes are potential obstacles to seeking optimal professional help and being supportive of others.

Has there been any stable approach for the improvement of mental health literacy? There have been lots, indeed and a number of them have grounds of effectiveness. The first and foremost of them happen to be the whole of community campaigns. The prime instances, in this regard, include beyondblue and the Compass Strategy in Australia, the Defeat Depression Campaign in the United Kingdom, and the Nuremberg Alliance Against Depression in Germany. There have also been school based interventions like MindMatters and Mental Illness Education in Australia.

If you want to know more, you can refer to 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 recognize mental disorders and their beliefs about the effectiveness of treatment. Medical Journal of Australia, 166, 182-186.