Mental Health Literacy

One in five young people suffer from a mental illness issue and a significant portion of those inflicted are a part of the student population at many universities. It often presents during adolescence and, if left unrecognized and untreated, can lead to considerable negative outcomes in physical and mental health, academic and vocational achievement, interpersonal relationships and other important life domains1. In spite of great need, many youth requiring mental health care do not receive it 2. Educators report that, even though they consider mental health to be very important to their students’ well-being, many do not feel they have the knowledge to support them.

The lack of knowledge and necessary care, along with the existence of stigma, serve to exacerbate a negative situation for those with mental disorders3,4.

Mental health literacy encompasses the knowledge, beliefs and abilities that enable the recognition, management or prevention of mental health problems with a range of benefits including early recognition and intervention, and reduction of stigma associated with mental illness. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, an estimated 3.2 million Canadian youth aged 12 to 19 are at risk of experiencing depression, but only one in five youth who need help access mental health services.

The University of British Columbia is improving mental health literacy among its teacher candidates, equipping them with the knowledge and skills they need as educators. In September 2015, UBC’s Teacher Education Program piloted a new online curriculum resource for future teachers on how to identify and talk about mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, in the classroom. This resource can be used as a self-directed course, part of a course (i.e., focusing on certain modules) or to provide support once candidates are working in school settings. Teacher candidates learn some of this content as part of EPSE 308 – Human Development, Learning, and Diversity. This free online curriculum resource is available for anyone who wishes to increase their mental health literacy!


1 Kessler R.C., Foster C.L., Saunders, W.B., & Stang, P.E. (1995). Social consequences of psychiatric disorders, I: Educational attainment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 152(7), 1026-1032.
Kutcher, S. (2011). Facing the challenge of care for child and youth mental health in Canada: A critical commentary, five suggestions for change and a call to action. Healthc Q, 14, 15-21.
Kutcher, S. & Wei, Y. (2014). School mental health literacy: a national curriculum guide shows promising results. Education Canada, 54(2), 22-26.
Prince, M., Patel, V., Saxena, S., Maj, M., Maselko, J., Phillips, M.R., et al. (2007). No health without mental health. Lancet, 370(9590), 859-877).