Young Adult Literature

Mental Health Week

 

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My book of the week was The Perks of Being A Wallflower. I came away from this book with lots of thoughts still zooming around in my head. Charlie, the main character, suffers from mental illness triggered by stress and, eventually, the realization of his past sufferings. The book is written in a letter format, which adds to the intimacy you will experience between Charlie’s mind and your own. Stephen Chbosky does an excellent job portraying mental illness through a lens of empathy and authenticity.  I put this book down and took some time to reflect on my own perceptions about mental illness and how these perceptions can affect the relationships I have with friends and loved ones as well as with my future students.

From Kia Jane Richmond’s article, Using Literature to Confront the Stigma of Mental Illness, Teach Empathy, and Break Stereotypes, her commentary on mental illness in the classroom noted, “In order for students to achieve at their greatest potential they must be educated in a safe and emotionally healthy environment,” (19). Providing a welcoming environment for students is an essential aspect of cultivating a community in the classroom. In The Perks of Being A Wallflower, we see Charlie experiencing social tensions as he enters high school with hopes of finding friends, which is a common stress for all teenagers, but especially those who live with mental illnesses adding tension to already stressful situations. Books like this, allow students to put themselves in the shoes of a character living a seemingly normal life while trying to cope with the symptoms of mental illness, which demands students’ attentions regarding sensitive topics such as this in society. Charlie is a lovable character learning the ropes of high school, experiencing his first parties and first love, and, throughout the book, hinting at his rocky past trips to the hospital. The enticement of a love story and a happy ending for Charlie helped me zoom through the book, but we eventually learn the reason behind his emotional and social issues that reminds us not everyone always has the happy past we hope for, but should promote our empathy and desire to take action in standing up for those who suffer and live with mental illnesses.

Initiating conversation about mental illness will help extinguish the stigma surrounding the notably sensitive topic in our culture. No person, let alone a student, should ever feel as if they have to take on a difficult time on his or her own. If there is a student who may struggle with mental illness, there should be a community waiting to back him or her up with support and resources to reach a state of stability and prosperity. As we see and know of heartbreaking stories every single day where someone has fallen victim to the clutches of mental illness, our society should be waking up and realizing that this is something we should be dealing with and working through together rather than letting those who suffer, fall alone. Although The Perks of Being A Wallflower had several instances very mature content that may be difficult to encounter in a classroom setting, it is a way to open up conversation about mental illness, and is a book I would put on a reading list as optional for students, and if I did a book talk to introduce this book on a reading list, I would be sure to warn about this content. I think The Perks of Being A Wallflower still ends with hope for Charlie because he has a support system of people around him, and that is the message we should be sending to those who struggle with mental illness and by creating an ending that still puts value on a support group is essential to setting up a positive example for society at large and for our students.

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6 thoughts on “Mental Health Week

  1. My book about bipolar depression referenced Wallflowers (a book I probably should have read by now but haven’t). The author used the book in two ways. One, the main character felt that she wasn’t like Charlie because she was born flawed, so how could she really relate to the story. As the book evolved, this character realizes that we are all flawed/hurt in some way and she finds consolation in the Charlie’s story. I thought it was cool that a YA mental illness-themed novel reference another similar work to make a point about the impact these stories have on our students. I also want to be able to open up conversations in the classroom, but I think it’s a bit tricky. Some students will not want to talk about their situation and may disengage. Others may offer inappropriate comments because they don’t understand. I think the key is for teachers to create a safe haven in the classroom that allows students to share their stories and others to build and practice empathy.

    I’m putting this on my reading list for “some day”!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jamie,
    Once again we read the same book. Therefore, I wanted to leave a comment on your page. I really enjoyed your post this week! I love that you said, “Stephen Chbosky does an excellent job portraying mental illness through a lens of empathy and authenticity.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement. The way the book was written really allows readers to connect with Charlie on a different level. I feel like this is a popular book for many students in high school. I loved the way you ended this post. You said, “I think The Perks of Being A Wallflower still ends with hope for Charlie because he has a support system of people around him, and that is the message we should be sending to those who struggle with mental illness and by creating an ending that still puts value on a support group is essential to setting up a positive example for society at large and for our students.” All I can say is this is 100% correct. Students need to know that they have people who support them. It doesn’t matter if it’s a teacher, counselor, or parent. Just being able to talk about what’s on your mind is so important. Great ideas Jamie. I really enjoyed this!

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jamie! Loved this post and what you had to say about Perks of Being a Wallflower. I go back and forth on that book all the time when I realized that it’s probably the movie that I have the most issues with which is besides the point. You said, “Initiating conversation about mental illness will help extinguish the stigma surrounding the notably sensitive topic in our culture.” This. Is. So. Important. Bringing awareness can breakdown stereotypes and stigmas of mental illness. Just having a conversation about these issues can change people’s lives or even make them more empathetic to the topic. I know my friend who has suffered from depression and an eating disorder openly talks about it because she wants people to know 1. that it’s okay to talk about it and 2. to show that things can get better.

    Thank you for your post. You’re a pretty awesome gal.

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  4. Hi Jamie! Thank you for your post I haven’t read The Perks of Being a Wallflower yet, even though I probably should have by now. I so agree with you that students shouldn’t feel that they are alone in what they are walking though. It is hard enough to walk through something that can be as challenging as mental illness and feel alone. I can’t wait to read more of your posts!

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  5. Jamie,
    I read Perks of Being a Wallflower as well, I also thought the letter format gave the book an intimacy and certainly gave an impression of opening the conversation about mental health. And Mrs. Shurtz, I had a very similar impression when I was reading Perks, I felt in the beginning Charlie had too much going for him for individuals struggling with mental health or life in general would be able to relate, but the book showed that things at the surface don’t show nearly what the person is dealing with underneath. One thing I took from that book and these blog posts that I’ve remembered from previous classes is you have no idea what the student comes from.

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  6. Hi Jamie,
    I thought your post this week was wonderful! Very eye-opening and heartfelt to read through. I also began to read this book for this week however, I found the format of the book difficult to read and really relatable. It may have simply been me, but I couldn’t finish the book due to the format itself.
    I agree with you when you spoke about the introduction of conversations with our students about mental health and how it could possibly stomp out the stigma and create some great advocates in our students.

    Like

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