People with low literacy rates struggle with more mental health problems worldwide, according to new research from the University of East Anglia.
A new study published today is the first to look at global literacy rates and mental health.
14% of the world’s population still has low or no literacy rates – research has found they are more likely to suffer from mental health issues such as loneliness, depression and anxiety.
The team, from UEA’s Department of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy (CPPT), said their findings disproportionately affected women, who accounted for two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population.
Despite rising literacy rates over the past 50 years, an estimated 773 million adults worldwide still cannot read or write. Women are disproportionately affected by low literacy rates in developing countries and countries with a history of conflict.
We know that people with higher literacy rates tend to have better social outcomes in finding jobs, earning higher wages, and being able to afford better food and housing. The inability to read or write can hold a person back in life, and they are often impoverished or more prone to crime.
We also know that lower literacy rates are associated with poorer health, chronic disease and shorter life expectancy.
There have been some studies that have looked at potential links between literacy and mental health, but this is the first to look at the issue on a global scale. “
Dr Bonnie Teague, UEA Norwich Medical School
The team reviewed data from 19 studies that measured both literacy and mental health. The studies were conducted in nine different countries (United States, China, Nepal, Thailand, Iran, India, Ghana, Pakistan, and Brazil) and involved nearly 2 million participants.
Dr Lucy Hunn completed this systematic review as part of her PhD training in Clinical Psychology at the University of East Anglia. “We used information related to mental health and literacy to assess the globally reported relationship between these two factors,” she said.
“We found significant associations between literacy rates and mental health outcomes across several countries.
“People with lower literacy rates have greater mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.
“We can’t say with certainty that low literacy rates lead to poor mental health, but there is a strong link between the two.
“Mental health can be affected by a variety of factors that also affect literacy rates – such as poverty or living in an area with a history of conflict. However, the data does show that even in these places you still see worse mental health situation for those who are not literate.
“This work highlights the importance of mental health services understanding and supporting literacy,” she added.
Global literacy and mental health: a systematic review published in the journal Mental Health and Social Inclusion.
University of East Anglia