The Importance of Health Literacy

East Brunswick (N.J.) Public Library Consumer Health Librarian Catherine Adamo explains “Just for the Health of It” at a farmers market. Photo: Karen Parry
East Brunswick (N.J.) Public Library Consumer Health Librarian Catherine Adamo explains “Just for the Health of It” at a farmers market. Photo: Karen Parry

Health literacy is defined as  “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” Health literacy affects people’s ability to successfully navigate the health care system (including filling out complex forms and finding service care providers), engage in self-care and management of chronic diseases, and understand the mathematical concepts of risk and probability. Low health literacy leads to poor health outcomes, which are associated with higher health care costs.

The Role of Libraries in Health Literacy

The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy revealed that the majority of adults (53 percent) had intermediate health literacy. A smaller number of adults (12 percent) had proficient health literacy. Nearly a quarter (22 percent) had basic health literacy and the remainder (14 percent) had below basic health literacy. Minorities, non-English speakers, elderly adults (over the age 65), adults living below the poverty line, and those without a high school education are at risk for having lower health literacy.

Libraries are uniquely posed to aid in the improvement of health literacy. There are many ways libraries can help, including expanding their health collections, giving programs about the Affordable Care Act, teaching classes about searching the internet for reliable and accurate health information, and connecting with local, state, or national health organizations.

Youth Mental Health First Aid

Youth Mental Health First Aid was designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis. Youth Mental Health First Aid was primarily designed for adults who regularly interact with young people. The course introduced common mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a 5-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered included anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders.

Youth Mental Health First Aide Training Class at Bernardsville Public Library
Youth Mental Health First Aid Training Class at Bernardsville Public Library

In 2015, the State Library was awarded an Outreach to Consumers grant award in the amount of $15,000 from the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Middle Atlantic Region. The funds were used to purchase approximately 100 seats for library staff to be trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid. Participants earned a Mental Health First Aid certificate at the end of the two-part program. Four sessions were held in the summer and fall 2015.

Click here to learn more about the our Youth Mental Health First Aid program.


Health Literacy Information

Health Literacy in the News

The Sacramento Library is serving teens searching for materials on personal subjects, such as depression and eating disorders, through their own brand of passive readers advisory and the librarian standby—the Dewey Decimal system. Check out the ABC News 10 Sacramento feature article here: Signage That is Sensitive to Teens’ Privacy in Searching For Mental Health Resources

Health Literacy Workshops that Can Save Your Life

Augusta University is teaming up with Augusta-Richmond County Public Libraries to bring health literacy workshops to the local community. The Health Literacy Workshops aim to inform people about diseases so they can recognize them before it’s too late.