Mental health is just as important as our physical health, and many educators understand this. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (51.5 million in 2019).” Depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, the list goes on and on, but one thing any person can relate to when dealing with a mental illness is that 1) there’s not enough awareness or funding, and 2) it feels very isolating sometimes. Our job as educators is to support our students, but also expose them to healthy social and emotional outlets to cope with the ongoing obstacles they face.
This month will focus on social and emotional health through books about teens, families, and friends affected by mental illness. Many provide possible coping mechanisms while others provide first-hand experience through their story—good, bad, or otherwise. Not only does mental illness affect the person who has it, but the people who care for them as well. When diving into books with characters who suffer from mental illness, many times other characters come to the forefront to share stories about loving or interacting with someone who does. They’re all teachable moments, and every once in a while, one book hits home and provides a bridge for a teenager to relate, listen, and learn from someone else’s story (fiction or nonfiction).
In the book Every Last Word, author Tamara Ireland Stone tells the story of a teenage female character named Samantha McAllister who deals with Purely-Obsessional OCD, which makes her overwhelmed with dark thoughts and worries that she can’t stop. She’s best friends with the popular crowd, but constantly feels she’s not good enough. Throughout this book, Sam makes a new friend named Caroline, who introduces her to “Poets’ Corner,” a secret, after school, creative writing and poetry club hidden in her high school. It is full of misfits who are mostly ignored by the school and is decorated with stanzas and lines from poetry written and performed by students. It is a dream and Sam can’t believe she has a home in a place that usually causes her so much anxiety.
Download the lesson below for an activity on poetry writing.
Jennifer Dryden is a high school English and journalism teacher in Des Moines, Iowa. She is a part of the LGBTQ+ community and advocates for queer youth any way she can, including running her school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA). She has a passion for reading and making lame jokes to her students just to see them laugh or roll their eyes. She just concluded her eighth year teaching. Dryden graduated from Iowa State University with a BS in journalism and mass communication (2010) and BA in English Education (2013). She attended New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute (2010), and spent some time in children’s book publishing in New York.