September 22

What is Mental Health Literacy?

In times before the global health pandemic, youth were experiencing mental health challenges, including but not limited to anxiety, depression, loneliness, suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts. Now, according to a recent report put out by Mental Health America, youth mental health is worsening especially with higher risk populations. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Mass & Metrowest and the Mental Health Collaborative are partnering to provide the BBBS community with virtual workshops focused on mental health literacy. This project is being funded by the MetroWest Health Foundation of Framingham, MA.

We know that 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24. We also know that there is an average delay between onset of symptoms and intervention of 8 – 11 years. This may be due to stigma, lack of knowledge, poor resources and/or poor help seeking efficacy. There is a tremendous need for Mental Health Literacy throughout whole communities so that we can shorten this gap and people can get the treatment and help that they need and deserve. Research has shown that early identification, diagnosis and proper treatment of mental illness have substantial positive long term effects on recovery.

As we look ahead to the effects on mental health from COVID-19 stemming from social isolation, loss, loved ones being sick, cancelled events, school format changes and much more, there is a significant increased need to support our youth, their parents and the communities in which they live. Incorporated in 2019 and born out of an identified need for Mental Health Literacy among students, parents and whole communities, Mental Health Collaborative began its mission to build resilient communities through mental health literacy education.   

What is Mental Health Literacy? 

Mental Health Literacy is the knowledge and understanding that helps us become responsible, effective and successful in living healthy, full lives. In our schools we do a great job at teaching all types of literacy (ie English Literacy, Math Literacy, Financial Literacy, etc) but we don’t teach mental health literacy to the extent that we should be and our youth are paying the price. 

Mental Health Literacy is built on 4 essential pillars:

  1. Understanding how to optimize and maintain good mental health. We all need to know how to improve and maintain our mental health, especially when life hands us curve balls and there is uncertainty in our environment. 
  2. Understanding mental illnesses and their treatments. Just as we learn about illnesses in other parts of our body, we need to learn about illnesses that impact the brain and how it is functioning. We need to learn the difference between when something is an illness of the brain, and requires professional evidenced-based treatment, versus when we are experiencing tough times and need extra support and help problem solving. 
  3. Decreasing Stigma. The stigma that surrounds mental illness gets in the way of people getting the help that they need and deserve when struggling with mental illness and mental health challenges. We all need to learn what the myths versus the realities are and help to fight the stigma so that people stop suffering silently. 
  4. Enhancing help-seeking efficacy. Knowing when to get professional help, how to access it and what to expect when going for help is imperative. We have easy access to this information when it comes to most branches of medicine, but it is more difficult to know when and how to get help in psychiatry. 

If you are a parent/guardian or Big in one of our programs and interested in learning more about the Mental Health Collaborative’s virtual workshops, then please email

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