"If you are just sick you could make your own chicken soup. But if it's a mental illness - you can't fix yourself." Teaching secondary school students about mental illness.

Year: 2006

Author: Askell-Williams, Helen, Lawson, Michael, Slee, Phillip, Murray-Harvey, Rosalind

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper reports a classroom based investigation into the MindMatters curriculum resource "Understanding Mental Illness" (UMI). We observed the teaching of the UMI module in three secondary classrooms. We measured students' knowledge, attitudes and behavioural intentions in relation to mental illness both before and after the teaching of the UMI module. We also held focussed discussions with teachers about teaching the UMI module and teaching about mental illness and mental health in general. Paired sample t-tests on students' knowledge, attitudes and behavioural intentions, showed statistically significant improvements in students' scores from pre-teaching to post teaching. Students' in-class comments also indicated their increasing awareness of issues related to mental illness. Discussions with teachers raised pedagogical issues such as, finding ways to teach about profound issues such as mental illness in non-trivial ways; accommodating differing levels of development of students' conceptual understandings; and the value of stories for changing people's knowledge and attitudes. Teachers highlighted a lack of teacher expertise about mental illness and the implications this has for integrating modules such as UMI across the curriculum. Teachers also indicated a need for frameworks of scope and sequence to guide teaching about UMI in particular, and mental health in general.

Key Words: student wellbeing; mental health; mental illness; curriculum design; curriculum delivery