The practice of ‘social promotion’ makes it impossible to use completion of grade 12 as an accurate assessment of literacy abilities
According to R. C. Christensen and G. D. Grace Psychiatr Serv 49.7, January 1998 literacy is a critical, but largely overlooked, issue in the evaluation and treatment of individuals with mental health disorders. For example, a 44 year-old patient with schizophrenia reported that he had obtained a college degree many years ago. He confidently indicated that he read “very well.” However, testing showed that he was reading at the fourth to sixth grade level. They suggest that clinicians should routinely evaluate their patients’ literacy skills, using a screening device such as Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine (REALM). This tool allows reading level to be assessed quickly and patients can then receive written information appropriate to their reading level or they can receive information in other formats. Information about REALM can be found in Appendix 1.
In 1978 Gerald S. Coles, PhD, Laura Roth, M.S.W. and Irwin W. Pollack, M.D. published a paper on Literacy Skills of Long-Term Hospitalized Mental Patients in the Journal of Hospital and Community Psychiatry. Of the 48 patients they tested to determine their literacy level they concluded that both in-hospital and aftercare programs must recognize that literacy level is an important factor in the rehabilitation or recidivism of patients. They found that some patients had difficulty recognizing words and that others could read the words but were unable to extract meaning from them. This has an impact on health issues too. It should not be assumed that someone understands just because they can read.
The Friends with Pens Literacy Outreach Project for agencies serving the homeless population, developed by the Literacy Group of Waterloo Region draws attention to the fact that homelessness and low literacy experienced together can lead to greater challenges than either experienced on its own. This would be compounded if the person also had mental health issues. Not only is learning a process, but so is becoming a learner. Friends with Pens recognizes the fact that adults who have dropped out of school, given up on learning or had their motivation and self confidence taken from them often find it difficult to recapture the drive to learn. It is neither a quick nor an easy process. Community capacity building helps in the process. The project organizers found that support team of agencies helped to minimize the barrier of low literacy in accessing services. Therefore, it seems reasonable to expect that a collaboration between mental health workers and adult literacy providers would help to minimize barriers to learning.
The question used by Friends with Pens was “How do we help this specific individual, in this specific place, achieve this specific goal?” If we use this question to inform our research we will find that certain issues need to be identified and addressed, namely:
In other words, does the client meet the eligibility criteria for entering an adult literacy program?