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Difficulties in knowledge and perceptions of mental illness amongst the student population: perspectives gained from a participatory action research project by Psychology master’s students from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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Mental illness is currently one of the most concerning and prevalent global health challenges. The researcher undertook this investigation in an attempt to obtain a clearer understanding of the difficulties in knowledge and perceptions of mental illness amongst the student population at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Howard College campus. The Participatory Action Research (PAR) method was implemented to identify the most appropriate method for mental health awareness and to encourage help-seeking behaviour. This mixed method study explores difficulties in perceptions and understandings of University students regarding mental illness; the first phase utilised a sample of 5 participants who formed a focus group. The findings revealed that students’ traditional and cultural beliefs were given the same priority as Western thoughts on mental illness, and treatments were often combined. Difficulties in knowledge and perceptions were found to be attributable to the cultural divide between Western and traditional notions. Participants indicated that their knowledge and perceptions of mental illness was influenced by societal and cultural beliefs. With PAR methodology being employed to develop a mental illness awareness poster and with the impact of exposure to the poster being in a sample of 17 university students (who shared their perceptions and understandings of mental illness pre-and post-exposure to the poster). Study findings suggest that exposure to poster may have been associated with increased knowledge and more informed understandings of mental illness among students surveyed.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.