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NewsJan 3, 2022

Fostering mental health literacy through adolescent literature

New book edited by faculty Brooke Eisenbach and Jason Frydman shows how literature can support youth

Zoom screenshot of Brooke Eisenbach and Jason Frydman
Faculty members Brooke Eisenbach and Jason Frydman with their new book.

The adolescent years are tough. They’re even tougher on teens who struggle with mental health issues, and the stigma that surrounds them.

A “labor of love” by Associate Professor of Middle and Secondary Education Brooke Eisenbach and Assistant Professor of Psychology and Applied Therapies Jason Frydman aims to help remove that stigma.

This fall, the two published “Fostering Mental Health Literacy through Adolescent Literature,” a book with chapters co-authored by literacy experts and mental health specialists.

Released in November by Rowman & Littlefield, a Washington, D.C.-based independent publisher, the book helps teachers address mental health themes with their students through literature. The goal, according to the publisher is to develop “students’ mental health literacy while simultaneously attending to English Language Arts content and literacy standards.”

The book, Frydman says, will “hopefully help to normalize the conversation around mental health and illness, particularly among an adolescent population where there is a documented stigma.”

Eisenbach says the book can help teachers as they craft lessons and strategies and select the literature for their classrooms, focusing on texts that “feature characters that are well-rounded and not simply defined by a mental illness.”

“Basically, the goal is to help teachers who want to bring this literature into the classroom,” she says, but to do so with the added perspective of mental health professionals who specialize in treating and/or assessing young people.

Frydman says the book provides an important opportunity for collaboration between teachers and mental health specialists. Typically, a school mental health worker only sees students who are referred for counseling or assessments, rather than seeing how they interact inside the classroom.

And that’s assuming a school even has a dedicated mental health professional in the building. Many rural or poor school districts lack the means to support students with mental health issues, so Eisenbach and Frydman edited the book with under-resourced schools in mind. While teachers’ careful, intentional introduction of mental health literacy into the curriculum can help destigmatize psychological issues, it is no substitute for assessment or therapy, however.

“We want to set a clear boundary around teachers stepping into the role of psychologist, mental health counselor or social worker,” Frydman says. “Our work is not necessarily the first work to talk about this subject, but it’s among initial conversations to bring a mental health worker directly into the conversation.”

In addition to Eisenbach and Frydman’s collaboration, Lesley faculty members Grace Enriquez, Michelle Pate and Laura Wood contributed chapters to the book.

Eisenbach and Frydman are already planning their next collaboration, focusing on the experiences of middle school teachers as they infuse this mental health themed literature into their English language arts curriculum.