A Lesson Using Text, Audiovisual, and Infographic Sources to Explore Mental Illness

Ken Kesey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest after working in a hospital and feeling the mentally ill housed there were not necessarily  psychologically disturbed, but instead misunderstood.

Ken Kesey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest after working in a hospital and feeling the mentally ill housed there were not necessarily psychologically disturbed, but instead misunderstood.

“I don’t think I can give you an answer. Oh, I could give you Freudian reasons with fancy talk, and that would be right as far as it went. But what you want are the reasons for the reasons, and I’m not able to give you those. Not for the others, anyway. For myself? Guilt. Shame. Fear. Self-belittlement. I discovered at an early age that I was– shall we be kind and say different? It’s a better, more general world than the other one. I indulged in certain practices that our society regards as shameful. And I got sick. It wasn’t the practices, I don’t think, it was the feeling that the great, deadly, pointing forefinger of society was pointing at me–and the great voice of millions chanting, ‘Shame. Shame. Shame.’ It’s society’s way of dealing with someone different.”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey

Mental illness is often misunderstood by teens (and sometimes adults as well).  Pete Planisek wanted his students to explore misconceptions about mental illness in conjunction with a unit using One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  To meet these goals, we planned a three-day lesson where students used a variety of sources to explore thinking on topics related to psychological illness.

The lesson addressed the following Core Curriculum Standards:

  • RI.11-12.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
  • RI.11-12.7: Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

The learning targets were as follows:

  • I can explore my thinking on the issues of mental illness via print, multimedia, and infographic sources.
  • I can share my opinions with others using textual evidence in classroom and group discussions.

The first day (with shortened class periods) students met in small groups to discuss the following questions and record responses:

1.  Explain how we, as a society, determine who/what qualifies as mental illness?

2.  Provide reasons why we have a bias towards the mentally ill?

3.  Does society maintain its own level of insanity (consider social norms, cultural practices etc.)?  Provide (2) examples from our society and (2) from either Part 1 or 2 of the book.

4.  Identify rights the mentally ill should be entitled to.

5.  What are some of the effects (positive and negative) of mental illness on the individual and the family or friends of an individual with mental illness?

6.  Identify connections between creativity and mental illness. Connect to events, characters, or themes from Part 1 or 2 of the book.

Some of these questions were difficult for students to answer at first, for example the “positive” effects of mental illness on the individual were difficult to note.  However, many of the resources provided additional context for students to reconsider the question.

After students recorded initial responses, they examined a variety of sources relating to the questions and recorded important information on a notes sheet to reference later.  Each group had to choose an article, an infographic, and an audiovisual source to analyze.

In order to do this, on day two, students were given access to ipads and hard copies of all articles to do research and find infographic, audiovisual and text-based resources.  Each group chose from a list (see below and the handout at the bottom of the post) and took notes over each source, noting interesting, surprising, and new information that might influence their position on the initial questions.  Here is a list of the resources we used:

Group A – Informational

“Facing Mental Illness [Infographic],” from USC Social Work Virtual Academic Center

  • This infographic provides a wealth of information about mental illness and its effects on the individual and society.


“Mental Health: The Facts,” an infographic from New Internationalist Magazine

  • This infographic provides information about mental illness, discrimination and the literal cost of mental illness.


“Rethink Mental Illness,” an infographic from Visual.ly Design

  • This infographic deals with schizophrenia, stereotypes/stigma, and symptoms


“Timeline: Treatments for the Mental Illness,” from PBS.com

  • This timeline describes the positive and negative developments in the treatment of mental illness over time, including some of the detrimental, and at times abusive, treatments


Group B – Audio Visual

“Mental Illness to Mental Skillness,” a TEDTalk by Joshua Walters

  • This speech describes the personal experience of a man with bipolar disorder and how he overcame to embrace the positive aspects of his symptoms and treat the negative ones


“All Kinds of Minds,” a playlist of TEDTalks  (7 videos to choose from)

  • This is a series of speeches dealing with personal experiences of psychological illness or research on mental illness


Group C – Articles / Biographical

“11 Historical Genuises and Possible Mental Disorders” from Mental Floss

  • This article summarizes theories on historical figures who likely suffered from one or more mental illnesses.  This resource might help to de-stigmatize psychological illness


“Just Manic Enough: Seeking Perfect Entrepreneurs” from The New York Times

  • This article explores the link between “hypomania” and entrepreneurship


“Social Worker Shares Story of Living with Mental Illness,” from The Chicago Tribune

  • This article describes a person with bipolar disorder who overcame adversity


“The Dark Side of Creativity” from CNN.com

  • This article describes the link between creativity and mental illness


“Community Support Programs Keep People Out of Hospital, Jail,” from the Vancouver Sun

  • This article describes successful treatment of mental illness


“Baker was Compassionate Amid Personal Struggles,” from the News Observer

  • This article is about a young man with a mental illness that results in his suicide


“The Roots of Mental Illness,” from the American Psychological Association

  • This article explores the causes and diagnosis of mental illness


“Seven Facts about America’s Mental Health-Care System” from The Washington Post

  • An eye opening account of what we spend, treat, or fail to treat here in the U.S.


“Solitary Confinement Ravages the Mind, but use is Widespread” from The News Daily

  • Examine the impact solitary confinement has on both the healthy and mentally ill alike
  • An eye opening account of what we spend, treat, or fail to treat here in the U.S.


On the third day of the lesson, the intention was to have students share out their findings and focus on the following questions:

  • Which sources were most convincing and why?
  • Which sources were most reliable?
  • Which sources were most effective?
  • Choose two questions on which to focus and consider the following:
  • How did your perspectives change based upon the information you analyzed?  Which information influenced this change and why?

With a shortened class period again on the third day of the lesson, we were not able to fully develop the conversation as we had intended.  However, we did have some interesting conversations about the information read and the types of sources used.  Many students found the TEDTalks telling individual stories to be one of the most effective means of receiving information because they enjoyed the first-person perspective version of the information.  We discussed how this information appealed to emotion most.  We also discussed how the infographics were a fast and reliable way to receive information.  Some students enjoyed this format, but others found it to be overwhelming because they had trouble conceptualizing how all of the information was connected.

Here are resources that can be used for the lesson:

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