Health Literacy


Exploring the health literacy among consumers and workers

People living with severe mental illness experience a life expectancy of 15-25 years less compared to the broader population, with the majority of premature death attributed to preventable physical illness. Whilst the causes of death within this population group are similar to the general population, the rates of illness and the presence of factors that contribute to the illness exist at a much higher rate. Compared to the broader population, people living with severe mental illness experience:

  • 2-3 times the rate of cardiovascular disease;
  • 55-70% higher rates of obesity;
  • 3 times the rate of diabetes; and
  • Higher rates of oral disease, asthma, chronic pain and cancers.

Given health literacy is a key determinant of health outcomes, Neami National (a community mental health service) rolled out a questionnaire among consumers and workers during late 2016 to identify the health literacy needs, health conditions and health risk behaviours among consumers and workers. The Health Literacy Questionnaire (HLQ), designed by Deakin University, explores nine different domains that reflect a variety of areas relating to an individuals' health literacy status. The below preliminary findings are based on 499 workers and 328 consumer participants across VIC, NSW, SA, QLD and WA.

The majority of consumer participants' reported difficulty navigating the health care system and difficulty finding good health information. However, the majority of consumers felt understood and supported by at least one healthcare provider and reported having enough information to manage their health. The significant majority of consumers did not achieve the recommended daily consumption of vegetables or engage in the recommended daily physical activity. Nearly one third of consumers reported back pain, one in seven consumers have diabetes and 42% smoke.

Workers reported difficulty navigating the healthcare system and difficulty actively engaging with healthcare professionals. However, 80% of staff reported having enough information to manage their health. One in seven staff experience back pain and one in five staff experience depression and/or anxiety. Health risk behaviour was relatively low among workers, however most concerning was the low nutritional consumption and smoking rate (16%).

This data provides valuable insight into the health literacy among people living with severe mental illness and workers in the community mental health sector, which will influence the integration of health literacy interventions within Neami National's current Health Promotion Program.

The comprehensive data and recommendations were made available in 2017.

Organisations: Neami National, Access Health and Community

Website: Exploring the health literacy among consumers and workers