The Health Literacy Initiative is a Commonwealth Health Innovation Funded program. It is a transformational program designed to support organisations to make information, resources, supports and environments available and more accessible to people. The overall aim is to reduce health inequalities and improve health outcomes for people with lived experience of mental health issues and caring, their families and kinship groups.

The first statewide co-design workshop was held on 4 December 2019 in Sydney, NSW. 

Video resources

Watch the health literacy videos below.

What is Health Literacy?
The Health Literacy Initiative Explained

The problem

  • Sixty percent of Australians have low health literacy, which contributes to poorer health outcomes, increased risk of an adverse event and higher healthcare costs.1
  • Low health literacy has been associated with less participation in prevention activities and less effective communication with healthcare professionals.2 3 4 5
  • People with a mental illness have poorer physical health, yet they receive less and lower quality health care than the rest of the population.6 They have higher morbidity and mortality (death) rates and those with severe and complex mental illness die an average of 13-24 years earlier, largely because of physical health conditions.
  • Many carers of people with lived experience of mental health issues have unmet needs in the Australian community and are poorly informed about available supports.7
  • Health-literacy informed approaches have the potential to improve the use of services by increasing the availability of tailored, stepped-care service options.


  • Similarly, improving the mental and physical health literacy of the workforce would improve engagement with people with lived experience of mental health issues and provide better value care.
  • Whilst there are several national initiatives to improve health literacy such as resources developed by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC), these are primarily focused on physical health. NSW has also conducted community campaigns (e.g. Beyondblue) targeting the mental health literacy of the general public, often with a goal of reducing stigma and improving help-seeking.
  • NSW has never targeted health literacy interventions for clinicians or organisations/systems to improve the mental health of people with lived experience of mental health issues and caring, families and kinship groups at this scale.

The response

Over the next three years, the Commission, three clinical/research teams embedded in universities, NSW primary health networks, local health districts, being and Mental Health Carers NSW will co-design, test and evaluate health-literacy interventions. The initiative will target health literacy interventions for clinicians and organisations/systems in primary care and specialist health settings.

The clinical research teams include academic and clinical leaders from:


Two NSW Primary Health Networks (PHNs) will pilot the approach and interventions prior to sharing with all ten NSW PHNs. The two pilot PHNs are:

The Sax Institute and the University of Sydney will conduct an overall evaluation of the initiative.  


1. Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care
2. Von Wagner C, Knight K, Steptoe A, Wardle J: Functional health literacy and health-promoting behaviour in a national sample of British adults. J Epidemiology Community Health 2007, 61(12):1086-1090.
3. Adams RJ, Piantadosi C, Ettridge K, Miller C, Wilson C, Tucker G, Hill CL: Functional health literacy mediates the relationship between socio-economic status, perceptions and lifestyle behaviours related to cancer risk in an Australian population. Patient Education Counselling 2013, 91(2):206-212
4. Schillinger D, Bindman A, Wang F, Stewart A, Piette J: Functional health literacy and the quality of physician-patient communication among diabetes patients. Patient Education & Counselling 2004, 52(3):315-323
5. Herndon JB, Chaney M, Carden D: Health literacy and emergency department out-comes: a systematic review. Annals of Emergency Medicine 2011, 57(4):334-345
6. National Mental Health Commission, Equally Well
7. Diminic, S, Hielscher, E, Harris, MG, Lee, YY, Kealton, J. & Whiteford, H. A. (2018). A profile of Australian mental health carers, their caring role and service needs: results from the 2012 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 1-12.