A school mental health literacy curriculum resource training approach: effects on Tanzanian teachers’ mental health knowledge, stigma and help-seeking efficacy
Mental health literacy (MHL) is known to be foundational for mental health promotion, prevention, stigma reduction, and care, but school supported information on MHL is sub-Saharan Africa is limited. This study, published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems this month and part of a project addressing youth depression in Tanzania, introduced a MHL curriculum resource (The African Guide) to secondary school teachers in Tanzania, alongside teacher training workshops on the classroom application of the guide.
While the challenges of meeting the mental health care needs of young people are substantial in high-income countries, they are much greater in low-income settings, including many countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Historically, mental health care in Tanzania has been provided by a traditional healing system based on the association between mental illness and spiritual factors. This practice still remains prevalent and the availability of trained mental health professionals is low – thus a need for enhancing MHL in Tanzania exists.
MHL is defined as:
- understanding how to obtain and maintain positive mental health
- understanding mental disorders and their treatments
- decreasing stigma related to mental disorders
- enhancing help-seeking efficacy (knowing when and where to seek help)
Recent integration of MHL into schools in Canada by teaching teachers how to apply curriculum resources (available at http://www.teenmentalhealth.org) has demonstrated significant and sustained improvements in knowledge, and reduction in stigmatizing attitudes for both teachers and students. A culturally-adapted version of this resource (the African Guide), has been used as the MHL resource given to teachers in this study.
Four mental health experts were trained in the use of the African Guide over 2 days, and then went on to train teachers from secondary schools in the classroom application of the guide. Pre-post testing was used to assess knowledge and attitudes of the teachers; this showed significant improvements in overall knowledge, mental health knowledge, and curriculum specific knowledge. There was also a significant decrease in the teachers’ stigma against mental illness.
Furthermore, as a result of later refresher-training, the teachers had higher rates of help-seeking efficacy for themselves, their students, and peers. Between the teachers that took part, over 200 students were subsequently identified for potential mental health care.
The conclusions of this study have been that the inclusion of a classroom-based MHL resource into existing school curriculum may be an effective and sustainable way to increase mental health literacy of teachers. They suggest that once teachers receive training in how to apply a MHL resource in their classrooms, they spontaneously use their new knowledge to reach out to and assist their students, friends, family members and peers. The study also supports the need for MHL refresher training for teachers. Finally, consideration to implementing this material into pre-service teacher training is necessary if long-term stability of enhancing teacher MHL is to be realized.
The full paper can be read below: