Emerging Adults' Mental Health Literacy and Mental Health First Aid Experiences: A Mixed-Methods Study
Morgan, Ashley Sarah
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Mental health problems are a significant concern in Canada. Prevalence rates suggest that emerging adults are one of the most at risk age groups in terms of experiencing mental health problems. Canada has begun to recognize the importance of improved knowledge of mental health problems including recognition of specific disorders, knowledge of treatment options, and attitudes that promote appropriate help-seeking behaviour, a construct termed “mental health literacy” (MHL). The present mixed-methods study involved quantitative and qualitative components. The quantitative component involved an examination of MHL using novel online survey methodology and was focused on four disorders that often first occur or worsen during emerging adulthood: depression, substance abuse disorder, social anxiety disorder, and bulimia nervosa. Participants were N = 561 Canadian emerging adults, defined as individuals between the ages of 18 through 29 years (72.0% women). Recognition of specific disorders is a major component of MHL. Recognition rates in the current study ranged from moderate to strong (depression = 83.2%; substance abuse disorder = 69.8%, social anxiety disorder = 57.1%, and bulimia nervosa = 68.8%). Women had significantly better recognition rates than men with regard to depression and bulimia nervosa. The importance of recognizing that one has a mental health problem was identified as a key factor in the help-seeking process. Stigma was also identified as a barrier to help-seeking. The process of using one’s MHL to support someone with a mental health problem has been termed “mental health first aid” (MHFA). The qualitative component of the current study involved an exploration of participants’ (n = 10) MHFA experiences using a semi-structured interview. Using a thematic analysis approach, five major themes were identified in the data: (1) progression of recognition of a mental health problem, (2) the importance of mental health literacy, (3) the helping experience, (4) stigma, and (5) lessons learned. MHL and MHFA have been identified as important components in the broader initiative to improve mental health at the population level. Implications for future research and the application of the findings to prevention and intervention efforts are discussed.