Connection Between Mental Illness and Limited Literacy
A new study that was recently published shows that the reading level of almost 47% of the population of the United States of America is equivalent to that of an eight-grader. Furthermore, the percentage of people who have a reading level of an eight-grader is considerably higher. The author of the paper, Alisa Lincoln, is an associate professor at the Northeastern University, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Despite the fact that there were numerous papers published regarding the connection between the reading ability of patients and their own general health, there are very few papers published on the impact that limited literacy has on mental health. Through the use of a 3-year $1.3 million grant, professor Lincoln wants to make a change. She is currently the interim director of the Institute for Urban Health Research, from the Northeastern University. The grant was received from the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) in order to find more data on the link between the literacy levels and the mental health of patients.
“You can’t approach this from just one discipline”, said Lincoln, who is a sociology and health sciences professor. She noted that help from other medical fields is needed in order to assess the complete mental function of patients. Her current team consists of several public-health experts, a biostatistician, a psychiatrist, a medical anthropologist, two cognitive psychologists and two literacy specialists. According to Lincoln, this team will be able to correctly assess the connection between limited literacy and mental health.
The first time a connection between limited literacy and the lives of mental-health patients was suggested was through a previous study that involved a small number of patients. Researchers observed that the patients with higher reading abilities were able to handle their symptoms better than patients with lower reading abilities. Methods that were unavailable to patients with lower reading abilities include the use of Internet or journalism to gather information about their illness.
According to Lincoln, the grant will be used to fund a study that will include 300 patients that use the public mental-health services. This study will include the assessment of the levels of numeracy, literacy and even aural literacy of the patients. Other factors that are related to the social conditions of the patients will also be taken into consideration. Professors Lincoln pointed out that the number of studies that are related to the shame associated with limited literacy is growing, compared to the already high number of studies that were focused more on the negative impact of mental diseases on the health and lives of patients.
“If you’re living with mental illness and struggling with limited literacy, you’re dealing with a double whammy. It’s no wonder these folks are cut off from many societal resources”, said professor Lincoln.