Mental health inside college English courses across America

Sierra Force ’20 Staff Writer

Through independent research, I gained a broader perspective of mental health integration inside college English departments across the United States.

During my junior year, I registered for a Connective Experience course which discussed mental illness and brought to light how mental health conditions impacted the most established and popular of artists, writers and poets.

The final component of the four-class LVC constellation requirement allowed me to select an independent research project which encompassed the teachings and learnings of the course relating to humanities, the social sciences and natural sciences. My topic was how well English departments in colleges and universities across the United States discussed literary figures and their mental health and suggested creative writing as a way to cope with mental or emotional struggles.

With the help and support from Shelly Moorman-Stahlman, Professor of Music, I created a ten-question survey to send to the English departments. The study provided a better understanding of how universities integrated mental health topics inside the classroom and across campus.

By the conclusion of my project, nearly thirty colleges had participated. Some of the colleges who participated include Arizona State, University of Delaware and Columbia University.

“Mental illness is fairly well discussed across campus,” Ronald Broglio, an Arizona State English professor, said. “The English department runs two wellness fairs each semester, which include two to three hours dedicated to mental wellness. Student services run info sessions, too, especially at the beginning and end of the semester.”

Arizona State was the first school to reply and represented similar results that I had begun to see at other colleges. While they hosted wellness fairs, what occurred inside the classroom regarding mental health was nonexistent.

“Our faculty are aware of mental health on campus and are attentive to student needs,” John Ernest, chairperson and English professor said. “But there is much that could be done, from invited speakers to focused events to workshops to train faculty.”

My findings from each college suggested similar conclusions. Mental health is still considered a science-based subject. Unlike what my connective course taught, mental health plays a more significant role in the arts and is relied on as a way to cope and release inner pain, thoughts and emotions. There is still much to be done to bring mental wellness topics and awareness into syllabus and class conversations.

As a mental health advocate, English major and writer, this was both relevant and meaningful research to me. I enjoyed the opportunity to conduct my research and to understand this problem on a national level.