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Mental health literacy: conceptualisation of mental illness among African residents in Pietermaritzburg.

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Mental health literacy refers to people’s beliefs and knowledge about mental illnesses. How people conceptualise mental illness shapes their beliefs and attitudes towards such illness and the mentally ill. As mental illness is increasing in most parts of Africa, mental health literacy may play a vital role in greater adherence to treatment, greater ability to engage in self-care and in improved mental health status. A qualitative approach was used, using a focus group and individual interviews to investigate people’s mental health literacy from a local context to contribute to the body of literature on mental health issues. Thematic analysis was used to identify factors affecting mental health literacy. The findings suggest that mental health literacy is more contextual than individualistic. Therefore, there is a need to have a contextual understanding of mental illness as beliefs about the causes of mental illnesses appear to influence people’s attitudes and their perception of appropriate places to seek help.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.