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Mental Health and Substance Use Literacy

Health promotion

Mental health 

Mental health is defined as our capacity to feel, think, and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. Mental health is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual wellbeing that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections, and personal dignity (Centre for Health Promotion, 1997). Furthermore, we may experience optimal mental health or poor mental health.

Mental Health Promotion 

Mental Health Promotion (MHP) is “the process of enhancing the capacity of individuals and communities to take control over their lives and improve their mental health. MHP uses strategies that foster supportive environments and individual resilience while showing respect for culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity” (Health Canada, 1997). It is an enabling process done by, with and for the people (Hosman & Jané-Llopis, 1999). MHP conceptualizes mental health in positive terms that emphasize strengths, assets, competencies and resources (Pollett, 2007). It aims to enhance mental health through approaches that are collaborative, participatory and empowering (Jané-Llopis, Barry et al., 2005) and which strengthen the innate capacity of individuals, groups and communities to achieve and maintain their own health (Pollett, 2007).

Mental illness (disorder) prevention 

Mental illness (disorder) prevention “focuses on reducing risk factors and enhancing protective factors associated with mental ill-health, with the aim of reducing risk, incidence, and prevalence and recurrence of mental disorders, the time spent with symptoms, or the risk condition for a mental illness, preventing or delaying recurrences and also decreasing the impact of illness in the affected persons, their families, and society” (Jané-Llopis et al., 2006).

Positive mental health

Promoting positive mental health or mental well-being is an integral component of overall health and vitality – there is no health without mental health. As such, everyone in health care has a role to play in promoting and maintaining patient/client and family mental wellbeing.

Mental wellbeing

Mental wellbeing is a positive state of mental health. Mental wellbeing is more than just happiness – it is a dynamic state in which individuals are able to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others, and contribute to their community. It can be affected by things like worries about money, work, your health, home, the people around you, and your environment. (Cooke & Coggins, 2005).

An individual’s mental wellbeing can have a positive ripple effect on a wide range of outcomes, including:

  • healthier lifestyles
  • better physical health
  • improved recovery from illness
  • fewer limitations in daily living
  • higher educational attainment
  • greater productivity
  • gainful employment and earnings
  • better interpersonal relationships
  • more social cohesion and engagement
  • improved quality of life and overall wellbeing

This information is from the BC Ministry of Health (2007). Evidence review: mental health promotion. Victoria, British Columbia: BC Ministry of Health. 

  • Centre for Health Promotion (1997). Proceedings from the international workshop on mental health promotion. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto
  • Cooke, A., & Coggins, T. (2005) Neighbourhood well-being in Lewisham and Lambeth: the development of a mental well-being impact assessment and indicator toolkit. Journal of Public Mental Health, 4(2), 23-30.
  • Hosman, C., & Jané-Llopis, E. (1999). Political Challenges 2: Mental Health. In The Evidence of Health Promotion Effectiveness: Shaping Public Health in a New Europe, Chapter 3, 29-41. International Union for Health Promotion and Education, IUHPE, Paris, France: Jouve Composition & Impression.
  • Jané-Llopis, E., Hosman, C., Jenkins, R., & Anderson, P. (2003). Predictors of Efficacy in Depression Prevention Programmes. Meta-analysis. British Journal of Psychiatry, 183, 384-397.
  • Jané-Llopis, E., Barry, M.M., Hosman, C., & Patel, V. (2005). Mental Health Promotion Works: A Review. Promotion & Education, Supplement 2, 9-25
  • Moodie, R., & Jenkins, R. (2005). I’m from the government and you want me to invest in mental health promotion. Why should I? Global Health Promotion, 12(supplemental 2), 37-41.
  • World Health Organization (2004a). Prevention of mental disorders: effective interventions and policy options. Summary report. A report of the World Health Organization Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse; in collaboration with the Prevention Research Centre of the Universities of Nijmegen and Maastricht.Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization. 

Health literacy

Health literacy means the ability to gain access to, understand, and use information in ways that promote and maintain good health. 

Mental health literacy refers to the knowledge, beliefs, and abilities that support the prevention, recognition, and / or management of mental health and substance use challenges. Specifically, mental health literacy includes:

  • the ability to recognize specific disorders, including substance use issues
  • knowing how to seek information about mental health and substance use challenges
  • knowledge of risk factors and causes of mental health and substance use issues, self-care techniques, and professional help available
  • attitudes that promote recognition and appropriate help-seeking

A high public level of mental health literacy would make early identification and appropriate intervention for mental health and substance use challenges more likely. Mental health literacy is also important for reducing stigma – an issue that can prevent help-seeking and promote discrimination against people identified as having a mental health or substance use disorder.

Click here to learn more about the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information, a coalition of seven non-profit agencies working together to help people better prevent and manage mental health and substance use problems and live a healthier life.

Health literacy resources

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