Open Access Research article

Mental health literacy about depression: a survey of portuguese youth

Luís M Loureiro1*, Anthony F Jorm2, Aida C Mendes1, José C Santos1, Ricardo O Ferreira1 and Ana T Pedreiro3

Author Affiliations

1 Health Sciences Research Unit – Nursing, Mental Health and Psychiatry Nursing, Nursing School of Coimbra, Avenida Bissaya Barreto, Apartado 7001, Coimbra 3046-851, Portugal

2 Melbourne School of Population Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

3 Health Sciences Research Unit – Nursing, Nursing School of Coimbra, Coimbra, Portugal

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BMC Psychiatry 2013, 13:129  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-129

Published: 7 May 2013



Depression is a common disorder in adolescents and young adults, but help seeking is low. Mental health literacy about depression is a key concept to plan interventions for improving help seeking. This study aimed to evaluate youth mental literacy about depression in order to design school-based interventions.


During 2012, a survey was conducted with a stratified cluster sample of 4938 Portuguese young people between 14 and 24 years of age. Following the presentation of a vignette describing depression, a series of questions was asked concerning: recognition of the disorder; knowledge of professional help and treatments available; knowledge of effective self-help strategies; knowledge and skills to give first aid and support to others; and knowledge of how to prevent this disorder.


In response to an open-ended question, around a quarter of the participants failed to recognize depression in the vignette. When asked about the potential helpfulness of various people, most of the participants considered mental health professionals, family and friends to be helpful. However, teachers, social workers and a helpline were less likely to be considered as helpful. With regard to medications, vitamins received more positive views than psychotropics. Some interventions were frequently rated as likely to be helpful, whereas for others there was a lack of knowledge about their effectiveness. A positive finding is that alcohol and tobacco consumption were seen as harmful. When asked about mental health first aid strategies, participants supported the value of listening to the person in the vignette and advising professional help, but some unhelpful strategies were commonly endorsed as well.


Deficits were found in some aspects of depression literacy in Portuguese youth. Therefore intervention in this area is needed.

Mental health literacy; Depression; Youth; Help-seeking