Mental health literacy in korean older adults: A cross-sectional survey

Y. S. Kim, Hee Yun Lee, M. H. Lee, T. Simms, B. H. Park

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


What is known on the subject?: Mental health literacy is a fairly new concept, first introduced in 1997. It refers to what people know and believe about mental health disorders. People's knowledge and beliefs help them to recognize, manage and prevent mental disorders. Generally, older adults have lower health literacy compared to young and middle-aged adults. What this study adds to existing knowledge?: This is the first study on the mental health literacy of Korean older adults. This study looks beyond peoples’ ability to recognize mental health disorders and their opinions about them. It identifies factors that are associated with mental health literacy (level of education and social support, the number of people in one's social circles and how individuals rate their health). What are the implications for practice?: Older adults might get more out of mental health literacy programmes in group or social settings. Programmes that use older adult peer educators/supporters, such as the “older people's champions” of the Healthy Passport programme in England, might make the programmes more effective. Mental health campaigns, such as Australia's beyondblue, might increase mental health literacy of older adults. Abstract: Introduction Korea is experiencing rapid population ageing, spurring an increased need for mental health services for the elderly. Approximately one-third of Korean older adults experience depressive symptoms, and Korea has the highest elder suicide rate among 34 developed nations. Mental health literacy is an important component of promoting mental health, yet studies on the concept have been conducted in few countries. Aim This study examines the level of mental health literacy among Korean older adults and identifies factors associated with their mental health literacy. Method A cross-sectional survey was conducted with 596 community-dwelling Korean adults aged 65 and older. Andersen's Behavioral Model of Health Services Use framed the study. Results Overall, participants displayed low levels of mental health literacy. They had difficulty recognizing their mental health issues and had limited knowledge about self-help strategies. Mental health literacy was positively associated with education, social support, social network and health status. Discussion and Implications This study highlights a need for efforts to increase mental health literacy among Korean older adults. Strategies that have the potential to empower this population to proactively attend to their mental health include community-based education and national mental health campaigns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)523-533
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was funded by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Korea. We appreciate its generous support for the study and the Korean older adults who participated in this study.


  • Korea
  • Korean older adults
  • mental health
  • mental health literacy
  • social network
  • social support

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