Mental health literacy of undergraduate nursing students at a university in the Western Cape
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Background: Mental illness is recognised as a global public health concern due to the significant amount of morbidity and disability accounted for by mental illness. Additionally, the stigma and discrimination towards mentally ill persons are a global concern and have a significant impact on public health. Limited knowledge, negative attitudes and discriminatory behaviours are associated with reduced help-seeking behaviour, under-treatment and social exclusion of mentally ill persons. Ignorance about mental health problems has contributed significantly to stigmatisation resulting in the coining of the term ‘mental health literacy’. Research suggests that nursing students have mental health literacy levels comparable to those of the general public or layperson at the start of their studies, and various other studies report that nursing students have negative attitudes towards, and poor knowledge of, mental illness. It is therefore important to address the mental health literacy of undergraduate nursing students, as a lack of skills and negative perceptions create a barrier to nursing students’ ability to engage with, and care for, mentally ill patients. Aim and objectives: The aim of the study was to determine the mental health literacy of undergraduate nursing students at a selected university in the Western Cape, South Africa. The study had two objectives, which were (1) to determine undergraduate nursing students’ knowledge of mental illness and (2) to determine undergraduate nursing students’ attitudes that promote recognition of mental disorders and help-seeking. Method: A quantitative, descriptive survey design was used to conduct this study at a university in the Western Cape. The target population consisted of 1162 student nurses who were registered in the Bachelor of Nursing programme at the selected university in 2019. The sample for the study was 294 nursing students. The mental health literacy scale (MHLS) was distributed to the participants for data collection and the response rate was 100%. Data analysis was done with the aid of a statistician using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, version 25. Nominal as well as ordinal data were analysed using descriptive analysis. The process and purpose of the study were explained to the participants, who gave their consent prior to the distributing of the questionnaires. The researcher obtained permission from the registrar of the university before commencing with the study. Findings: The study found that the nursing students who participated in this study generally had good knowledge of mental disorders and maintained positive attitudes towards mental illness and appropriate help-seeking for mental illness; however, they also maintained some negative attitudes towards mental illness, especially in the aspect of social distance from mentally ill persons. Recommendations: A qualitative approach may provide a better understanding of nursing students’ mental health literacy, especially regarding attitudes towards mental illness and help seeking behaviour.