Take This MOOC: Literature and Mental Health

A silver pen in a blank, open journal.

Literature and Mental Health is actually a course I stumbled on thanks to Learning How to Learn (which I’ve previously reviewed here) and their weekly email newsletters. I was too late to sign up for it initially, but opened again in January and finished up the first week in March. (Don’t worry: these courses often repeat! Sign up now if you’re interested in taking the course in the future.)

Literature and Mental Health is another offering from FutureLearn, like Inside IELTS (see my review here, including some comments on FutureLearn). It’s presented by Jonathan Bate, Paula Byrne, and was developed by the Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick. As the name would suggest, Literature and Mental Health looks at how literature, particularly poetry, might be beneficial in treating mental illness. The course focuses on six particular issues related to mental well-being:

  • Stress
  • Heartbreak
  • Bereavement
  • Trauma
  • Depression and Bipolar
  • Aging and Dementia

Literature and Mental Health, like Inside IELTS, is presented only in English. The literature in question is English, and the course draws particularly from the British literary traditions. Nonetheless, the course seems to have been enjoyed by learners all over the world, judging by the comments in the course discussion.. There are transcripts of every video, which EFL students will no doubt find helpful. (There is the occasional hiccup in the transcripts, but for the most part they’re quite good.)

As I mentioned earlier, the course focuses almost exclusively on poetry. I am notoriously indifferent about poetry, and so I would have appreciated equal attention paid to prose throughout the course. Nonetheless, I appreciate that Literature and Mental Health drew from a broad scope of English literature, from the 1600s until today. The poems selected represent a lovely cross-section of the English language and how it’s developed over the last 350 years. EFL students might find some of those older poems intimidating, but you might be surprised at how how much you can take away from a poem, especially if you read contemporary discussion and analysis alongside of it.

There are no quizzes or other recall assignments involved. Instead, there are periodic, optional “activities” connected to literature-adjacent research: can reading poetry improve mood? what makes poetry easy or difficult to memorize? Students who find themselves stressed over MOOCs because of assessments or grades would do well to start with this one, as it’s incredibly low stakes.

Finally, the course draws inspiration from a wide variety of sources. Every unit includes interviews with other writers, poets, or British cultural luminaries. Additionally, a medical professional always anchors the initial discussion on the week’s focus, so that the discussion of the literature is always grounded in what the medical world knows about that particular condition. Even if you don’t get anything out of the poetry, you might learn something new about mental health!

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