Jason S. Frydman is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Lesley University. He is a nationally certified school psychologist, registered drama therapist, and has extensive clinical experience working with middle-level and high school students over the past 13 years. His research focuses on trauma-informed programming for K-12 students and the implementation and utilization of the creative arts therapies in the school setting.
Brooke Eisenbach is Associate Professor of Middle and Secondary Education at Lesley University. She is a former middle level English and YA Literature teacher and virtual school teacher with over ten years of experience. She has received several teaching awards including the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Outstanding Middle Level Educator Award.
According to the United States Department for Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 49.5% of adolescents has had a mental health disorder at some point in their lives (NIMH, 2021). This includes such diagnoses as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders, all of which can present challenges across emotional and behavioral domains. As adolescents face a diverse array of challenges related to mental health, they may be at an increased risk for negative social and academic outcomes (Kaltiala-Heino et al., 2000; Merikangas et al., 2010). Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has expanded these risk factors, intensifying challenges related to adolescent mental health. In a review of 16 studies conducted between 2019-2021, it was reported that adolescents experienced increases in anxiety, depression, substance use and abuse, and trauma as a result of the pandemic. Notably, it was indicated that adolescents generally have poor or underdeveloped coping skills, which leaves them vulnerable to common or emerging high stress situations (Jones et al., 2021).
What may be further compounding these contributing factors to mental health challenges are the associations with common stigmas of mental illness that have the potential to leave affected youth internalizing shame in seeking out support (O’Driscoll et al., 2012). Adolescents and their teachers may unknowingly accept and internalize stigmas surrounding mental illness. An unintended consequence of this is that the topic of mental illness/mental health becomes taboo for classroom discussions, reading and activity.
Young adult (YA) literature has the potential to serve as an entryway into enriching the social and emotional development of our adolescent learners while encouraging normalization of mental illness and mental health support. Our recently published book, Fostering mental health literacy through adolescent literature, centers contemporary YA literature in the middle and high school classroom as a starting point for engaging readers in the complex work of normalizing issues surrounding mental health.
Research has shown that stigma about mental illness can be mitigated through targeted education that challenges harmful stereotypes, personal contact with people with mental illness, and social activism (Maumbauer et al., 2018). Young adult literature is a terrific tool to address all these targets; alongside providing direct information on mental health and offering invitations to engage in social activism, we can use YA literature to introduce and humanize characters with mental illness or mental health needs in an effort to forge empathy, understanding, advocacy, and ally-ship in our classrooms.
However, it is important that teachers always remain vigilant in our understanding that certain texts might unknowingly trigger students or risk further engaging them in behaviors or beliefs that might pose a risk to their mental or physical health. For this reason, Fostering mental health literacy through adolescent literature intentionally and explicitly includes the voices and ideas of counselors, therapists, and psychologists familiar with adolescent development and needs. In this edited text, chapters are co-authored by teams composed of both educators and mental health specialists to highlight and explore a variety of contemporary YA literature featuring characters experiencing issues related to mental health. Along with providing orienting information on mental illness/mental health, chapters offer practical instructional approaches for the ELA classroom that attend to both ELA and mental health themes present in the featured YA novels. Regarding ELA literacy skills and domains, authors have collaborated on ways of enhancing understanding in such areas as critical research, understanding of characterization, figurative language, the hero’s journey, and more. Both ELA and mental health themes are grounded in specific pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading strategies that are tailored for the ELA classroom.
Our hope is that fostering mental health literacy through adolescent literature will provide teachers and students a gateway into brave spaces for respectful exploration of mental health themes through thoughtful discussion and committed engagement with YA literature.
- A Sky for Us Alone by Kristen Russell (2019); Issues of rural life and rurality
- The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds (2015); Grief and Loss
- Good Enough by Jen Petro-Roy (2019); Eating disorders
- I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez (2017); Transgenerational transmission of trauma
- Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka (2018); Substance use
- When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez (2015); Depression and suicide
- Heroine by Mindy McGinnis (2019); Opioid use and abuse
- OCDaniel by Wesley King (2016); Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Scars by Cheryl Rainfield (2010); Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), self-harm, sexual abuse
- Saving Red by Sonya Sones (2016); PTSD, schizoaffective disorder, anxiety
- Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (2009); Symptoms of eating disorders
- The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten (2013); OCD, hoarding
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Hall, M. (2020). Bibliotherapy and OCD: The case of Turtles all the way down by John Green (2017). New Horizons in English Studies, 5(1), 74-87. http://dx.doi.org/10.17951/nh.2020.5.74-87
Jones, E. A., Mitra, A. K., & Bhuiyan, A. R. (2021). Impact of COVID-19 on mental health in adolescents: a systematic review. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(5), 2470. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18052470
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Merikangas, K. R., He, J. P., Burstein, M., Swanson, S. A., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L., ... & Swendsen, J. (2010). Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in US adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(10), 980-989. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2010.05.017
Moore, A., & Begoray, D. (2017). “The Last Block of Ice”: Trauma literature in the high school classroom. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 61(2), 173-181. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaal.674
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2021). Mental health by the numbers. https://www.nami.org/mhstats
O’Driscoll, C., Heary, C., Hennessy, E., & McKeague, L. (2012). Explicit and implicit stigma towards peers with mental health problems in childhood and adolescence. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 53(10), 1054-1062. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.2012.02580.x
Richmond, K. J. (2014). Using literature to confront the stigma of mental illness, teach empathy, and break stereotypes. Language Arts Journal of Michigan, 30(1), 6. https://doi.org/10.9707/2168-149X.2038
Richmond, K. J. (2019). Mental illness in young adult literature: Exploring real struggles through fictional characters. ABC-CLIO: Libraries Unlimited.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Mental illness. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml