By Mira Sucharov, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science
Sometimes the course material we assign can have unexpected effects. In my fourth-year seminar on graphic novels and political identity, I have allowed my syllabus to stray from a narrow view of my discipline. So while we study works on such topics as the Holocaust, the Iranian Revolution, North Korea and the Palestinian Intifada, we also examine sex work, urban renewal and decay, and sexual identity. This week, I assigned Ellen Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir. The book is an intimate and candid look at bipolar disorder.
The class discussion around Marbles covered a range of social and political themes related to mental health stigma, employment discrimination and health policy. We asked whether there is a potential relationship between some mental health conditions and creativity. We looked at mental health in the context of other cognitive situations lending themselves to the “neuro-typical and neuro-atypical” framework of understanding the range of diverse mental states that occur. We examined social psychological research showing how triggering a certain emotional state (namely nostalgia) can help people become more accepting of those who suffer from mental illness.
To make the point that emotional health often exists on a spectrum, and to encourage students to reflect privately or publicly on their own experiences, I disclosed my own struggles with an anxiety crisis a couple of years ago.
The most touching moment for me, though, was hearing a student tell the class that reading Marbles has now inspired her to seek treatment for a mental health challenge she faces. (I am sharing this here with her permission.)
We often hope that teaching will be a transformative act. Sometimes it’s as simple as selecting a scholarly or creative work that we know will be challenging or moving, without knowing exactly how, in which directions, or whose life it might change.