Mental Health Literacy
What is Mental Health Literacy?
The term Mental Health Literacy was coined by Prof. Tony Jorm, one of the founders of MHFA in 1997. Mental Health literacy is described as “knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid their recognition, management or prevention” (Jorm et al., 1997, p. 182). Safer Communities is passionate about building the Mental Health Literacy of schools, workplaces and communities. Tony Jorm and his colleagues have broken the concept of Mental Health Literacy into five key components.
Knowledge of how to prevent mental disorders – The public are aware that smoking is dangerous for our health in many ways. From this knowledge we have seen significant reduction in smoking and related illnesses in Australia and other developed western nations. The broader community have far less awareness of the causal and risk factors around developing a mental illness. The training Safer Communities offers in MHFA and mental health education focus on the known factors that can lead to increased risk of developing a mental illness. Increasing this knowledge in our community is a powerful way to reduce perveance of mental illness and the harm it causes.
Recognition of when a disorder is developing – all too often people with poor mental health experience discrimination or are judged negatively when a mental illness is developing. At times the behaviour of a person may be percieved to be self-indulgent, anti-social or attention seeking. Due to these misconceptions a person experiencing the onset of a mental illness may not receive the early help and support they need. Early intervention through connection with professional support can reduce the length and severity of a mental illness. We all need to improve our ability to recognise and support mental illness early and in the same way we do with physical illnesses. Mental Health Literacy helps us to understand that a person who is behaving in unhelpful ways may have the early signs of a mental health problem or illness. They need recognition, connection and support from family, friend and people in their workplaces or schools.
Knowledge of help-seeking options and treatments available - Once a need for support is established it is important that members of the public know where and how to access evidence-based treatments. In Australia there are many options to access evidence-based treatments for mental illnesses. Support organisations have grown and developed and are becoming better funded and more accessible all the time. A MHFA course will assist in building awareness of the range of support and treatment options available for people developing mental illness or in a mental health crisis.
Knowledge of effective self-help strategies for milder problems – There are a range of ways a person experiencing onset of mental health problems can act to protect them from developing more serious symptoms. Often these are very achievable everyday activities or routines. While professional support and assistance is usually recommended, some people experiencing milder problems can see great improvement when they participate in healthy and positive self-care routines. There are a range of mis-conceptions about what is good for managing stress, low mood or anxiety symptoms.
First aid skills to support others who are developing a mental disorder or are in a mental health crisis – Even when people are well informed and non-judgemental about the issue of mental illness, they can sometime still find it difficult to initiate a conversation to support a person they are worried about. Setting aside our own judgement is an important step in delivering MHFA to another person. There are a range of verbal and non-verbal communication skills that are also very important. Being able to initiate and participate in a supportive non-judgemental conversation is a key indicator of good Mental Health Literacy. All organisations big and small need to have people who can do this.
We routinely train people to know how to respond to physical health problems in the workplace. Safer Communities knows it is just as important that Mental Health First Aid in Australia is equally valued and that these key skills are trained into your organisation.