This post is by Katharine Chisholm (pictured above), Research Fellow in the School of Psychology at the University of Birmingham. In this post she discusses the study she and colleagues conducted of mental health education for young people, published in their paper 'Impact of contact on adolescents' mental health literacy and stigma: the SchoolSpace Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial' published in BMJ Open.
Educating young people about mental health and ill-health is important. Mental disorders impact young people disproportionally, with around two thirds of mental illnesses having their onset prior to the age of twenty-five. Young people also tend to have a relatively poor understanding of what mental illness is, and with a lack of mental health education in schools, young people report relying on popular media or cult images to gain an understanding of what mental illness might look like. These representations tend to be sensationalist at best and wildly inaccurate at worst; the Joker from Batman, reports of ‘psycho’ criminals on the news, and the (now regular) outcry from mental health charities as yet again various shopping retailers offer a ‘deranged mental health patient’ as a Halloween costume.
Knowledge of what good mental health looks like is important in helping young people to maintain their own mental health. An understanding of when an individual might benefit from seeking help for their mental ill-health, and what kinds of help are available, is also beneficial. This kind of knowledge can help adolescents to develop resilience to stressful events, and to feel able to seek support if and when they need it. Reducing stigma and misconceptions of mental illness is of benefit to individuals who already experience mental ill-health, but also may mean that young people in need of support feel more able to seek this help, rather than feeling ashamed or ‘weak’ for not coping.