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Background: Although mental health literacy is a major determining factor of mental health outcomes and functional capacity of individuals, there is dearth of research on the issue in South Africa.
Aim: To assess the literacy of three mental disorders, namely major depressive disorder (MDD), schizophrenia and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and to compare the resultant assumed literacy level between urban and townships participants.
Setting: Five clinics of region 1 in Tshwane, South Africa.
Method: A cross-sectional descriptive study was performed between November 2019 and January 2020. A total of 385 questionnaires were distributed equally in all five clinics. By means of questions about three fictive cases with clinical pictures indicative of MDD, schizophrenia and GAD the following were assessed: recognising a mental disorder, identifying the cause and knowledge about what would help best.
Results: The majority of participants (67.3%) recognised the clinical picture indicative of schizophrenia as a mental disorder, almost half of the participants (49.9%) recognised the clinical picture indicative of MDD as a mental disorder, whilst just more than one third (36.3%) of participants recognised the clinical picture GAD as a mental disorder. Concerning the causes for the clinical pictures, most participants indicated that stress was the cause for MDD and GAD (77.4% and 68.1%, respectively), whilst indicating that biological or psychological (59.5%) causes are relevant to the clinical picture indicative of schizophrenia symptoms. Fewer participants indicated supernatural causes for any of the clinical case (MDD: 2.6%; schizophrenia 15.3%; GAD 4.2%). Most participants chose professional help as the best option for all three cases (MDD 81.3%, schizophrenia 82.2%, GAD 66.1%). The indicators for health literacy in this study show that urban participants had better knowledge than township participants across all questions about the cases.
Conclusion: Overall, the study indicated a variable knowledge regarding the three mental disorders in region 1 of Tshwane and variable literacy levels in townships compared with urban settings. The results indicate that awareness campaigns should focus on the deficient areas.