There can be a place for professors to talk about their mental health in a classroom setting.
In an article in The New York Times an instructor at George Washington University who taught a first-year writing seminar called “Composing Disability: Crip Ecologies” wondered whether it would be appropriate to share with her students that she has depression, particularly in the context of disabilities.
When it comes to instructors sharing their mental health experiences with their students, choice is everything. It should go without saying that a safe and open work environment emphasizes a person’s independent choice to share, never forces them to.
On the one hand, context isn’t unimportant. There is such a thing as providing too much information and the tone of some classes, where students don’t engage with the professor and there isn’t a fluent dialogue, may not lend itself well to sharing personal information and experiences.
On the other hand, sharing a personal mental health experience can have a positive impact that extends far beyond the classroom. Especially on university campuses, where we know many people struggle with mental health, there may never really be a time when it’s irrelevant.
When you only see a professor at the front of a classroom a couple times a week, it can be hard to see them as individuals with their own lives beyond the classroom. If a person in position of power chooses to share an experience in which they felt vulnerable, it can normalize discussions about mental health while also pushing students to realize that professors are human too.
But, besides acting as a potentially invaluable learning tool for students, sharing an experience of mental illness could be a significant experience for instructors themselves.
The ability to feel openly heard and have your experience validated isn’t a privilege exclusive to the student body — mental health campaigns that frequent university campuses aren’t just pushing to stop the stigma for the sake of students. Instructors deserve the ability to share their experiences if they’re comfortable doing so and be heard.
University campuses, including Queen’s, have taken steps towards normalizing experiences of and conversations around mental illness. So, professors, feel free to share — we owe it to you to listen to.
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