Why mental health literacy still matters: a review

Surendran Venkataraman, Rajkumar Patil, Sivaprakash Balasundaram


The magnitude of mental disorders is a growing public health concern. An increasing amount of research globally has attempted to understand the reasons for poor help-seeking for different mental health disorders. A segment of work has focused on ‘mental health literacy’ (MHL) defined as knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid their recognition, management & prevention. Studies on mental health literacy, people’s knowledge of, and attitude towards mental illness, and beliefs about mental health treatment were obtained through a review of literature in PubMed databases using the medical subject headings (MeSH) terms and unpublished, grey literature during the year 1995 to 2018. Nearly 50 of the eligible articles were included for the final report. Findings revealed that the general public have relatively poor recognition of the symptoms of mental health disorders and appear to emphasise self-help over standard medical treatments. Negative attitudes toward mental illness that hinders individuals from seeking professional treatment, and help-seeking are the common themes that emerge from the findings. Findings also revealed that treatment seeking, attitudes and beliefs toward mental illness are related to mental health literacy. Several different factors that influence have been identified, including gender, culture, age, educational qualifications, and personality. MHL in general remains at a relatively low level. There is an urgent need to improve awareness of mental illness and mental health literacy among the general public. Future research for improving MHL are required. 


Mental health literacy, Mental illness, Mental health, Beliefs about mental illness, Help-seeking

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