The responses from the three groups: clients, mental health workers and literacy staff were all very consistent and clearly defined issues and possible solutions. Current practices and suggestions which constitute best practices are included in this report.
Mental health workers said that an average of 50% of their clients had literacy issues. Of these, over half could function in a literacy group; more in a one-on-one setting.
Literacy staff recognized the work done by the Literacy and Mental Health Working Group in developing a better working relationship with mental health agencies that refer clients to literacy programs. Clients/learners are better served because of this collaboration. Literacy staff also reported that, as a result of literacy awareness training by OCCL, fewer inappropriate referrals were being made by mental health workers.
Staff from literacy programs see the benefits of belonging to the OCCL network for information sharing and mutual support. They recognize the key role OCCL plays in getting support and funding for research, such as the literacy and mental health project.
Mental health workers were pleased to take part in this research. They hope that publicity is given to the findings so that more of their colleagues can realise that literacy is an issue and a barrier for many clients. There are many positive benefits resulting from improved literacy skills. Mental health workers need to deal with literacy in their work with clients. Mental health workers who are aware of the literacy issues faced by some of their clients also found working with literacy programs resulted in successful, positive partnerships that have benefited their clients.
Clients with literacy issues may suffer negative impacts on health when they don’t understand their medication. They may have trouble reading food labels or getting to appointments in different parts of the city when they can’t read maps and timetables. They often have poor decision-making skills and are liable to be taken in by marketing ploys.
Clients identified social progression in school as being a negative experience. Because of social progression, grade level does not accurately reflect literacy skills. Clients often go to great lengths to cover up their lack of literacy skills. They are used to keeping the issue well hidden. Often clients give the impression that they understand but then something comes up to show that they don’t. Mental health workers have to check in a respectful way by asking questions about how their clients function on a day-to-day basis. Clients do not self-disclose until trust has been established. They feel it is too much to disclose literacy issues on top of mental illness. Our research also showed that medical professionals had not discussed this issue with their clients. The only exceptions were people who were involved directly or indirectly with the Literacy and Mental Health Group of OCCL.