Mental health literacy studies consider the capacity of respondents to recognize certain psychiatric disorders, judge the comparative utility of a range of interventions, and make estimates about outcome and prognostic issues. We report such a study involving a sample of nursing staff employed at a large psychiatric institution in Singapore, and who were provided with separate brief vignettes of mania, schizophrenia and depression. Subjects were highly accurate in ‘diagnosing’ schizophrenia, less accurate for depression and even less accurate in diagnosing mania. Depression was alternately diagnosed as stress, mania was most commonly misdiagnosed as schizophrenia, and for both psychotic conditions, a percentage returned non-psychotic diagnoses. In terms of treatment options, staff distinctly favoured a ‘medical model’ and viewed traditional and alternative healing options as distinctly harmful. Analyses contrasted psychiatrically trained and generally trained nurses, but identified few significant differences. Such information has the potential to shape the education and training of mental health professional staff, as well as provide important insights about how nurses may diagnose, view and favour alternative treatments and strategies to assist those with common psychiatric disorders.