History in Practice website provides instructors with resources on critical perspectives of mental health

Due to the impacts of vast changes in our lives from COVID-19, York University course instructors may be thinking about connecting with mental health in their teaching this year. For this, the online source History in Practice (HiP) offers a terrific starting point.

“The fact that we present mental health from the perspective of those who experience mental health differences makes HiP different from the other existing resources in this area,” said Megan J. Davies, an associate professor in the Department of Social Science and HiP website guardian. “It allows us to expand on academic understandings of the subject.

Megan J. Davies
Megan J. Davies

“We’re less concerned with labels and diagnoses, and more focused on factors such as living conditions, community supports and advocacy.”

Using a bank of research data from a seven-year Canadian Institutes of Health and Research (CIHR)-funded national project on the history of de-institutionalization and taking direction from a group of people with lived experience of mental health, HiP brings the power of real-life stories into the learning experience.

Referred to as mental health “artefacts” on the HiP website, these anecdotes provide useful past and present perspectives, which allude to a variety of political and societal contexts.

When used to frame the academic understanding of mental health issues, the stories are not meant to simply foster empathy. Instead, HiP aims to inform these feelings of compassion by taking the time to properly illustrate the details of each situation, painting vivid pictures of survivors as individuals with rich life histories.

For instructors who hope to explore these mental health artefacts, the process is quite simple. The website features a detailed breakdown of the support provided, ranging from topic-focused modules and learning objectives, to thorough assessments of the subjects and/or contexts being covered. Its design also includes a search engine that allows instructors to quickly find what they’re looking for based on specific issues, teaching methods, academic fields and levels of study.

As the transition to the remote classroom continues, addressing and acknowledging the mental hurdles of the COVID-19 pandemic could become a staple in certain disciplines. The shift in teaching strategies could create a potential launching pad for important discussions that have gone long overdue.

 This “artefact” includes a three-minute puppet show produced by one of the History in Practice community experts.
This “artefact” includes a three-minute puppet show produced by one of the History in Practice community experts

Exploring this robust subject matter through both historical and contemporary material encourages critical thinking from multiple angles. Over time, embracing classroom discussions on mental health could lead to an increase in general knowledge on these issues, and could pave the way for an expansion of support systems as well. From this perspective, for faculty members and students alike, the shared experience of moving to the online classroom presents a unique opportunity.

“I’m quite certain that the pandemic has been hard for people’s mental health. Our hope is that History in Practice will help scholars and educators in seeing mental health difficulties as part of life, rather than something that sets people aside and renders them as ‘less than’ or ‘other,’” Davies said.

“We want to amplify the voices that are often unheard. We want to showcase the resiliency and resistance at play, and ultimately use experiential knowledge in a respectful manner that supports good mental health.”

HiP received York Academic Innovation Fund support in 2020 to diversify its current resources and will be working with community groups in the Greater Toronto Area on this important project.

To learn more, visit the History in Practice website.