IATEFL Belfast 2022: Breaking stigma, building skills: representing mental illness in ELT materials – Lottie Galpin

Lottie started out as a teacher, and now focussed on DEI and materials – making materials more inclusive.

Lottie would like to trial inclusive materials with teachers, not just about mental health but about all areas of marginalisation. If you’d like to work with her, contact her via http://www.lottiegalpin.com.

When she mentioned this topic to some people, she had some who said it was important and should be included. Some said it’s too heavy and it shouldn’t be there. And some people looked at her awkwardly and didn’t know what to say. This reflects where we’re at with mental health in society – we don’t always have the language to talk about it. We can start to give our students the language to do this, and to break down some of the stigma around mental illness.

Language

There’s lots of different language we could use:

  • Mental illness
  • Mental health problems
  • Mental health disorders (very negative!0
  • Mental health conditions
  • Mental health challenges?

Mind, the UK charity, talks about mental health problems, with under this umbrella many areas (but not only these!):

[If language connected to mental health is something you’re interested in, there is an episode of Word of Mouth which covers this.]

So why is it important to represent mental illness and mental health challenges in ELT published materials?

As we said, it’s a part of life! Physical health is covered, but mental health isn’t. Why do we make that division? It’s all just health.

It helps students to realise they’re not alone.

It can be more dangerous to have a world where everything is happy, happy, shiny, shiny (thanks Hugh Dellar for that phrase!) and pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Students need to have that language to be able to talk about these things.

Students are potentially ready to talk about the topic, but maybe the teachers aren’t. If it’s in the coursebook, they might be more likely to do this.

Why is representation important?

  • All students can themselves in materials.
  • Increases student engagement and belonging.
  • Teaches students about a range of lived experiences.
  • Creates global citizens – prepares them for the world.
  • Gives students language to describe themselves.

If one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, that’s one in four of our students who will experience it first hand, and probably all of them will have somebody they know who goes through this. We need to prepare them to deal with this.

People don’t seek treatment because of stigma.

We can’t save the world, but we can help to reduce stigma.

How can we represent mental illness?

  • Representation of people with mental illness
  • Content that represents everyday experiences of mental illness
  • Content that builds awareness of mental illness and mental health skills
  • Support teachers and students with empowering teacher’s notes

An example

Lottie created an example of materials which build knowledge about a mental health condition, but also build their own language skills.

Start with the teacher’s notes. Offer student choice, allow teachers to prepare and model good practice with triggering topics.

This is the lesson warmer. It could be a text, a video – something real-life. The question focuses on ‘health’ not ‘mental health’, and the teacher’s notes talk about how to develop digital skills:

In the text, students build up factual knowledge about the condition. The text is designed to look like something which is reliable.

The discussion questions:

In our pair, we talked about the fact that exercise 5 might depend on who you are. I thought about from the point of view of ‘I have this health problem, how can I find out how to live with it’, whereas my partner talked about ‘Somebody has told me about it, and I want to learn more’.

These are the teacher’s notes:

The follow-up task is a standard research task, with overt skills practice.

Other things we can do

Representing real people, integrated in our other materials:

All teachers could feel comfortable using this, though Lottie would add a teacher’s note explaining what OCD actually is – to avoid stereotypes.

We could also integrate it into our audio:

This is a very standard type of dialogue, but why not include references to mental health rather than ‘Sorry, I’m busy.’

Too triggering to teach?

If you know your students, and allow the teacher’s book to explore the topic, then it shouldn’t be too triggering to teach, but you need to bear these things in mind:

Final thoughts

Featuring mental illness can build awareness and break stigma.

It may be triggering, but triggers can be mitigated.

Covering mental illness should be considered according to context.

This is the start of a conversation. This is just one way to cover mental health in materials, but there could be many other ways.

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