A ‘situational approach’ to mental health literacy in Australia

Ashfield, John, Macdonald, John, Francis, Abraham, and Smith, Anthony (2017) A ‘situational approach’ to mental health literacy in Australia. Report. Australian Institute of Male Health & Studies, Victoria, Australia.

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[Extract] Initiatives of mental health literacy in Australia have met with significant support from employers, schools, and the public. There has been much goodwill surrounding efforts to improve levels of understanding of mental health difficulties, and how to provide appropriate support to people needing assistance with them. Nonetheless, if future mental health literacy initiatives are to remain deserving of the confidence and support of the general community, and of public and private sector funding, we need to ensure that their content has integrity, is appropriate, and can achieve significant positive outcomes.

It is now quite common to hear the terms: ‘mental illness’, ‘mental disorder’, and ‘mental health’, and most people are now aware that there is a considerable repertoire of psycho-active drug treatments applied to ‘mental illness’. Most people also know of someone that is receiving drug treatment or psychological treatment for depression, anxiety, or some other mental health difficulty.

Communities have been saturated with mass media and printed materials conveying various aspects of this mental illness and treatment narrative, which has largely been taken for granted as authoritative because it uses medical language and is interlinked with medical practice. Most consultations focusing on people’s ‘mental health’ occur first in general medical practice.1

Current mental health literacy messaging and initiatives are largely in continuity with this medical framework, its use of psycho-pathological categories, and its approach to treating ‘mental illness’.

A situational approach to mental health literacy represents a significant departure from the current medical framework and its emphasis on illness and the use of illness language relating to mental health. It reconceptualises a broad spectrum of human distress, as non-illness, and remediable largely with non-medical intervention. In so doing, it also opens up a whole new potential for meaningful community engagement in the endeavour of psychological support, preventative mental health, and suicide prevention. This approach may potentially remove a significant burden of service demand and cost from our overwhelmed mental health system – particularly services that currently deal with high prevalence mental health difficulties, and may provide much more humane and satisfactory outcomes for consumers.

The first part of the following discussion consists of a detailed critique of the content of current mental health literacy, mainly focusing on its core components. Though mental health literacy takes a variety of different forms, these core components appear to remain more or less constant. In the second part of the discussion, the alternative, and almost comprehensively different situational approach to mental health literacy is presented. This may not be popular with institutions that are heavily invested in training curricula and programs promoting the current approach to mental health literacy. Nor will it necessarily sit comfortably with some service providers wed to the core narrative and practices of the existing mental health system. Nevertheless, with so much at stake socially, economically, and ethically, it is imperative that this subject be honestly considered and its implications dispassionately appraised.

Item ID: 49529
Item Type: Report (Report)
Keywords: mental health
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Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2017 00:01
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1607 Social Work > 160702 Counselling, Welfare and Community Services @ 100%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9303 Curriculum > 930399 Curriculum not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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