To support promotion, prevention and early intervention for mental illness school nurses need to be mental health literate.
Three hundred and thirty-nine school nurses employed in government and private schools from three Emirates in the UAE were surveyed. A culturally adapted Mental Health Literacy questionnaire comprising three vignettes of fictional characters meeting diagnostic criteria for the target conditions along with the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10) was administered to ascertain school nurses' ability to correctly identify the conditions and to elicit beliefs about helpfulness of treatment interventions and of health care providers for these conditions.
Less than 50% of the respondents correctly identified the disorders presented, while accurate identification of evidence-based interventions was also limited. Correlations between level of psychological distress and level of inaccurate survey responses was also revealed, respondents who correctly identified the correct diagnosis of the vignette and the most appropriate interventions were those who had a significantly lower K10 score.
Low levels of mental health literacy amongst respondents in combination with potential religious and cultural factors as reported in the literature, highlight the need for curriculum enhancements for future health professionals and a targeted program of culturally appropriate professional development focused on mental health promotion for those in clinical practice. The level of psychological distress noted in this cohort also signals a need to ensure that appropriate supports are available for clinical staff employed in schools.