Mental Health Literacy is the knowledge and beliefs people have about mental disorders which help their recognition, management or prevention [i]. It is important because it influences when and how people seek help and mental health outcomes.
The term is used to describe how both individuals and communities understand and respond to mental illness.
Good mental health literacy is about having the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to promote mental health and wellbeing, and reduce the impact of mental illness.
- understanding how to obtain and maintain positive mental health,
- understanding mental health disorders and their treatments,
- decreasing stigma related to mental health disorders,
- help-seeking efficacy, which means knowing when and where to seek help, and
- the skills needed to self-manage a mental health condition.
Both individual and environmental factors can affect mental health literacy. Individual factors include age, health status, knowledge, attitudes and cultural beliefs. Environmental factors include family and community support systems, stigma and fear about mental illness, cultural understandings of mental health, and the health system.
Why is it important?
Good individual and environmental mental health literacy can reduce health inequalities and reduce the burden on health and community services.
It helps people better understand their own mental health and helps them to know how to work to improve their wellbeing. It increases people’s resilience and control over their mental health and encourages people to seek help, by knowing when and where to seek help and how to manage their mental health condition[i].
People with limited mental health literacy may not be able to recognise signs of poor mental health in themselves or others, which can stop them from seeking treatment and support[iii].
A lack of understanding about mental health in the community can lead to fear, discrimination and stigma for people living with mental health conditions.
Head to Health is an Australian Government website that provides tools and information on mental health issues, and help to access a range of free or low-cost phone and online mental health services. It has more than 500 digital resources to support your wellbeing and mental health.
You can find out more about stigma and mental health issues at the MIEACT website.
You can explore ways to change attitudes to mental health and ways to provide safe and supportive environments for people experiencing mental health issues at Stampede Stigma.
Beyond Blue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live.
The Black Dog Institute has a range of resources on mental health and wellbeing.
[i] Jorm, A.F., et al., “Mental health literacy”: a survey of the public’s ability to recognise mental disorders and their beliefs about the effectiveness of treatment. Med J Aust, 1997. 166(4): p. 182-6
[ii] Kutcher S, Wei Y, Coniglio C. Mental health literacy: past, present and future. Can J Psychiatr. 2016;61(3):154–8. https://doi.org/10.1177/0706743715616609
[iii] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/m/mental-health-literacy accessed June 2020