Moving from awareness to literacy is critical. The concept of health literacy is foundational to health-related learning (Nutbeam, 2020). Similarly, when we seek to educate about mental health and wellness, mental health literacy is the goal (Kutcher et al., 2016). A range of research shows the positive effects of mental health literacy and the negative impacts that result when it doesn’t exist (Coles et al., 2016; Gulliver et al., 2019; Brijnath et al., 2016).
Mental health literacy is commonly understood as having four components (Kutcher et al., 2016):
- Understanding how to obtain and maintain positive mental health
- Understanding mental disorders and their treatments
- Decreasing stigma related to mental disorders
- Enhancing help-seeking efficacy
We propose a fifth component to mental health literacy: critical mental health literacy. Building on the concept of health literacy (Nutbeam, 2000), critical mental health literacy refers to the skills and knowledge needed to advocate for change in an environment, which may result in improved mental health and wellness.
As we work to curate and develop mental health and wellness education and training resources for students, faculty, and staff, the goal should be to increase their mental health literacy.
Existing literature and research can inform how we approach this work. We propose two key theories that establish a reference point and language we can use to evaluate resources.
The first guiding theory is the ecological model of health (Appendix A), which recognizes the importance of one’s environment on their mental well-being.
The second is the dual-continuum model of mental health and mental illness (Appendix B), which reminds us that mental health is not defined by the absence of mental illness and also that a diagnosis of a mental illness does not deny one’s ability to achieve positive mental health.