Skip to 0 minutes and 10 secondsWelcome to Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing, from the Warwick Business School. I'm Professor Jonathan Bate. And I'm Dr. Paula Byrne. So, Paula, we've got together to create what we think is a unique course for FutureLearn, in which we're going to go on a journey with great writers, novelists, playwrights, poets, but we're also going to be talking to doctors. This is a course about how literature can help us deal with some of the most stressful things in life. And the idea is that maybe literature is a form of therapy. It can help us with our wellbeing. Well, I think so.
Skip to 0 minutes and 52 seconds And what I really want to emphasise is that we are having a conversation with each other, but also with some actors, some writers, some medical practitioners, and just ordinary people whose lives have been helped or shaped by the great literature that they've read. And I want our learners to feel part of this conversation, to get involved, to listen in, eavesdrop in on our conversation. That's what I want them to do in the course of the next six weeks. And the learners are going to be part of the journey. We're going to have lots and lots of material available online and the comments and forum where people can discuss the issues that we raise with each other. Absolutely.
Skip to 1 minute and 33 secondsGet involved-- get involved. Join the forums, talk to us, be part of it. But we do need to say at the outset that we're very conscious that we're handling some really sensitive material here. We're going to be talking about post traumatic stress disorder, we're going to be talking about depression, we're going to be talking about dementia. And these are really serious issues. And obviously, there is a possibility that in discussing these difficult themes that all sorts of floodgates are going to open.
Skip to 2 minutes and 3 seconds So we do need to remind our learners that if you're in serious difficulty yourself-- it's your medical practitioner, it's the National Health Service, it's all the charities and care organisations, people like Samaritans who are there to help you. We're not, in any sense, trying to substitute for the work of professional health care. But we do think there's something extra that serious reading can offer. Indeed. I mean, was it Samuel Johnson who said, the point of literature is better to enjoy life or to endure life? And I think that's the sort of thread running through our course. Literature can help you to appreciate life, to enjoy it, to have fun.
Skip to 2 minutes and 46 secondsBut it can also help you to endure through the bad times. So, Paula, what are we going to be looking at in the first half of the course? OK, for the first three weeks of the course, we'll be looking at stress, followed by heartbreak, and then bereavement. And then in the next half of course? Well, then we're going to move on to some genuinely serious mental health conditions. We're going to look at trauma -- post traumatic stress disorder -- then depression and bipolar, and then in the final week, dementia. Although, we'll also be reflecting more generally on wellbeing and mental health in relation to old age.
Skip to 3 minutes and 22 seconds So this is a course, really, for anybody who has an interest in mental health, who loves good literature. We will look at poetry, novels, and plays. We want you to get involved. We want you to join in the conversation. We'll be talking to a wide range of people, all of whom have incredibly interesting things to say. So we would love you to be part of this unique course. Whether you've dealt with these conditions yourself, or you have a loved one who has, there should be something here for you.
Welcome to the course
A warm welcome to Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing.
The great 18th century writer Dr Samuel Johnson, who suffered from severe bouts of depression, said “the only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life or better to endure it.”
Taking Johnson’s phrase as a starting point, the course will consider how poems, plays and novels can help us understand and cope with times of deep emotional strain. The reading load will be flexible, and you will have the opportunity to exchange ideas and feelings via the online discussions with other learners.
Following the course
We will introduce each condition through a mix of videos, readings and discussions with medical practitioners, writers, teachers and actors. Where possible we’ll include key sections of poems or texts for you to read, such as Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Edward Thomas’ Adlestrop, Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Mark Haddon’s ‘Polar Bears’ and many more.
Together, we’ll explore six themes:
Stress: In poetry, the word “stress” refers to the emphasis of certain syllables in a poem’s metre. How might the metrical “stresses” of poetry help us to cope with the mental and emotional stresses of modern life?
Heartbreak: Is heartbreak a medical condition? What can Sidney’s sonnets and Austen’s Sense and Sensibility teach us about suffering and recovering from a broken heart?
Bereavement: The psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross famously proposed that there are five stages of grief. How might Shakespeare’s Hamlet and poems by Wordsworth and Hardy help us to think differently about the process of grieving?
Trauma: PTSD or “shellshock” has long been associated with the traumatic experiences of soldiers in World War 1. How is the condition depicted in war poetry of the era? Can poems and plays offer us an insight into other sources of trauma, including miscarriage and assault?
Depression and Bipolar: The writer Rachel Kelly subtitles her memoir Black Rainbow “how words healed me – my journey through depression”. Which texts have people turned to during periods of depression, and why? What can we learn from literature about the links between bipolar disorder and creativity?
Ageing and Dementia: One of the greatest studies of ageing in English Literature is Shakespeare’s King Lear. Is it helpful to think about this play in the context of dementia? Why are sufferers of age-related memory loss often still able to recall the poems they have learned “by heart”?
Allow us to first introduce ourselves:
Professor Jonathan Bate Jonathan is a well-known literary scholar. The author of many books on Shakespeare, his biography of the poet John Clare won Britain’s two oldest literary awards, the Hawthornden Prize and the James Tait Black Prize. His most recent book is a biography of Ted Hughes that was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and chosen as one of the “best biographies of 2015” by seven national newspapers. He has a longstanding interest in literature and mental health and is writing a book on depression and literary creativity called The Black Dog.
Dr Paula Byrne Paula has taught English and Drama at school, further education and university levels. She has written several bestselling biographies, including The Real Jane Austen, Belle: The True Story behind the Movie and Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead. She now divides her time between writing (her next book is Kick: The True Story of JFK’s Forgotten Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth) and her role as Founder and Chief Executive of ReLit.
During the course we will have dedicated steps for you to engage with each other on a specific play or topic. You also have the ability to comment on each video or reading.
We appreciate that the number of comments could become overwhelming at time, so we recommend using the activity feed link at the top of every page, which will help you see what is happening, or when using the ‘following’ filter in any comments or discussions.
Join in the conversation
We encourage you to discuss your interests, knowledge, and experiences with other learners throughout the course. You can leave a comment on each step, as well as in specific steps designed for a discussion activity.
You’re welcome to post comments and share your work outside of the course, too. Literature and Mental Health is linked to our bibliotherapy charity ReLit, which works with schools, prisons and the NHS to promote reading for wellbeing. You can engage with ReLit via Twitter (@ReLitUK) and Facebook; don’t forget to use the hashtag #FLliterature on these and other social media platforms.
Please be respectful of your fellow learners throughout this course and any personal information that they may shared. At no point in the course do we require you to reveal personal information to your fellow learners about your own mental health; some learners may feel comfortable doing so in the comments or discussions. Please be respectful of their decisions to be open with you. If you feel you need help with your own mental condition, or you feel you need to talk through how you feel, please seek help from your own medical practitioner.
Learn at your own pace
At the start of each week, we’ll send you a brief email to introduce the week’s topic. You should learn at your own pace, but we encourage you to join the conversations happening in the current week if you can. If you haven’t completed the course by the end of the final week, don’t worry, the course materials will remain open to you indefinitely on FutureLearn.
At the outset of the course we would like to remind you that all sorts of forms of professional help and counselling are available if you are suffering from any of the conditions we discuss. You should seek help from your medical practitioner and the charities and care organisations, like Samaritans. We’re not, in any sense, trying to substitute for the work of professional health care. But we do think there’s something extra that serious reading can offer.
Ready to begin?
When you’ve finished reading this and other steps on the course click the pink ‘Mark as Complete’ button (below) and then click Next to move on. Marking steps as complete will update your progress page and will help you to keep track of the steps that you’ve done on the ‘To Do’ list and make your progress eligible for a Statement of Participation.
We really hope you enjoy the course as much as we have enjoyed putting it together and we very much look forward to hearing from you over the coming weeks.
Jonathan and Paula.
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