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Mental Health Literacy among College Students: Conceptualizations of Mental and Emotional Health

1 January 2016


Mental health literacy is defined as the ability to recognize and understand characteristics of mental disorders, including risks, causes, and when and how to obtain resources and services. Mental health literacy allows for accurate evaluation and communication, which becomes the foundation for increased awareness about mental and emotional health and towards promoting, maintaining, and improving well-being. Given that mental health issues are often diagnosed by age 24, college can be considered an important time to not only intervene but also to promote well-being. The current qualitative study (N = 32) examined how college students conceptualize mental and emotional health in their lives. A modified grounded theory approach was used, resulting in four emergent themes. Students (a) struggled to define mental and emotional health and (b) believed it was secondary to other interests and pursuits. Students also (c) relied on information from a variety of sources that may or may not be accurate and (d) used dichotomies based on extremes to talk about mental illness versus wellness. Implications from the results are discussed.


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