Promoting Mental Health Literacy through Bibliotherapy in School-Based Settings

Added December 29, 2017

Approximately 20% of children have or have had a diagnosable mental health disorder (National Institute of Mental Health, 2010). Although school counselors are equipped to recognize and respond to the need for mental health and behavioral prevention (American School Counselor, 2015), only one in five children receive the appropriate mental health services (Kaffenberger & Seligman, 2007). Self-stigma, an individual’s belief that he or she is unacceptable, is the strongest predictor of young adult’s decision not to seek mental health care services (Beatie, Stewart, & Walker, 2016). These findings have led researchers to propose education campaigns to target self-stigma and increase mental health awareness (Beatie, Stewart, & Walker, 2016). Mental health literacy, or the knowledge and belief systems surrounding mental health (Jorm, 2000), provides a conceptual framework to educate, prevent, and provide early intervention in school-settings. Children who are knowledgeable about mental health, are more equipped to recognize mental health concerns in self and others and seek appropriate help (Salermo 2016; Townsend et al., 2017).

Bibliotherapy, the therapeutic use of books and other media, is one tool to foster mental health literacy in the school setting. Bibliotherapy has the potential to help children recognize emotions, offer effective ways to cope with emotional distress, and introduce children to the many avenues for mental health treatment, thus promoting mental health literacy. Books and other forms of media can provide children with relatable characters and realistic situations surrounding mental illness. This exposure to mental health may decrease the stigma of mental illness and increase the likelihood of help-seeking behavior in struggling children. Bibliotherapy is a versatile intervention that can be used in a variety of settings (Sullivan & Strang, 2003). The therapeutic benefits of bibliotherapy -- identification, catharsis, and insight (Allen, 2012) -- can be processed in the context of individual or group counseling. Peer-reading programs can be used to foster connection between children and their peers, a significant predictor of students’ socioemotional well-being (Elmore & Huebner, 2010). Additionally, books introduced in a school counseling environment can be brought home and read together by children and adults, increasing family engagement.

Promoting mental health literacy in schools has the capability to aid students with essential tools to develop healthy coping mechanisms and practice self-care. Taking a few deep breaths before a big test, visualizing the end of the school day on a difficult morning, and the ability to calmly handle a conflict are a few coping skills that bibliotherapy can teach. Furthermore, school counselors can use bibliotherapy as an adjunct treatment to counseling. Recommending specific books to students facing potentially difficult situations such as questions of sexuality and gender, dysfunction within the family, and mental illness can provide aid to students who may not otherwise have or know of other resources. Additionally, literary fiction aids in the development of social-emotional competence, a critical skill for developing emapathy (Kid & Castano, 2013). Books feature diverse, dynamic characters can provide poignancy to students struggling to understand the nuances of what it’s like to be someone other than themselves.

Jayna Mumbauer is a doctoral student in counselor education at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Viki Kelchner, Ph.D., LMHC, is an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida.


Jayna Mumbauer, Viki Kelchner, PhD, LMHC