Objective: Mental illness is a major cause of morbidity and, globally, has a high lifetime risk. Mental health literacy is known to improve symptom recognition, care-seeking and treatment outcomes. This study therefore sought to assess the knowledge and beliefs of Jamaicans regarding the definition, aetiology, symptomatology, treatment and prevention of mental illness.
Method: A nationally representative, randomly selected sample of 1224 respondents completed a 50-item questionnaire in a cross-sectional survey in Jamaica.
Results: The highest proportion of respondents (31.9%) defined mental health as ‘a mad person/mentally disturbed’ while 57.4% defined mental illness as ‘mad/mentally disturbed/not in the right mind’. Though the majority of the respondents believed that mental illness could be identified, perception of identification features varied: worrying (68.6%), smoking ganja (62.3%) and studying too much (47.9%). Level of education and age were significantly associated with perceptions on ways to identify mental illness. Gender and educational level were significantly associated with perceptions on treatment and prevention of mental illness.
Conclusion: There was limited knowledge of the definition, aetiology, symptomatology, treatment and prevention of mental illness. Low mental health literacy was associated with having little or no formal education, being a male and being in the younger age group (15–29 years).