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  • 2022peachphd

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Mental health literacy practices: an exploration of how students with mental health conditions use literacy to navigate support systems, manage their mental health, and engage with being a student.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Emily Peach
Publication date2022
Number of pages387
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • FASS Faculty Research Fund
Award date24/02/2022
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


As mental health is a growing concern in universities and beyond, mental health literacy has become a focus of interest for researchers. Addressing gaps in the current dominant conceptualisations, a social practice approach to mental health literacy is proposed in this thesis, based on previous social practice theories of literacy and health literacy. In combination with an innovative methodology, where remote video-calling interviews were used with 11 student participants with mental health conditions at one university over the course of an academic year, this approach to mental health literacy facilitated the capture of individual students’ complex and nuanced real experiences. From these experiences, detailed accounts are presented of the ways that the students managed their mental health, navigated support systems, and engaged with being a student through their mental health literacy practices.
The study shows that mental health literacy practices play a role in how the students obtained institutional recognition of their mental health condition, how they accessed support and treatment, their experiences in participating in that support or treatment and how they cared for and managed their own mental health. The students’ accounts highlight the complexity in the relationship between mental health, literacy, and assessment. These accounts further show the important role of the specific institutional contexts, which often position the students as relatively powerless whilst expecting them to be responsible and active in managing their mental health and support. Mental health literacy practices are also shown to involve emotions and to have a link with identity, with literacy and texts mediating many of the actions involved with managing mental health and navigating support systems. The study contributes to a deeper understanding of the situated practice nature of mental health literacy and how students use such practices to successfully cope with their mental health condition.