The Science of Mental Illness
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National Institute of Mental Health

The Science of Mental Illness

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Teacher's Guide

Lesson 5—Elaborate

In Their Own Words

At a Glance


Students watch a video of people telling about their experiences with a mental illness. Through a class discussion, students compare and contrast the life stories they saw to reinforce how mental illnesses are biological illnesses that affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors but that can be treated so that individuals can function effectively in their everyday lives.

Major Concepts

Mental illnesses are diseases that affect many aspects of a person’s life but that can be treated effectively so that the individual can function effectively in everyday life.


After completing this lesson, students will

Teacher Background

Consult the following sections in Information about Mental Illness and the Brain:

  1. 4 Diagnosing Mental Illness
  2. 4.1 Mental health professionals
  3. 7 Treating Mental Illnesses
  4. 8 The Stigma of Mental Illness
  5. 9 The Consequences of Not Treating Mental Illness
  6. 10.1.3 Treating depression
  7. 10.2.3 Treating ADHD
  8. 10.3.3 Treating schizophrenia
  9. 11 Finding Help for Someone Who Has a Mental Illness

In Advance

Web-Based Activities
Activity Web Component?
1 Yes

Activity Master Number of copies
1 Master 5.1, My Story
Master 5.2, Telling Their Own Stories—A Summary
Master 5.3, Things to Think About
1 copy per student
1 transparency
1 copy per student

Activity Materials
  • DVD player and TV*
  • computer with an Internet connection and projection system*
  • overhead projector
  • transparency pens
*The video is accessible in two formats. You will need to decide which setup is most convenient and appropriate for your situation. The DVD format most likely will be the easiest to use for showing the video to the class. The video is also available on the Web site. If using the Internet, you can show the video to the class via a projection system, or you can have small groups of students watch at multiple computers around the room.


Decide which format you will use for this activity. If using the DVD, arrange to have a DVD player and television available. If you are using the video on the Web site, make sure that the video will play properly on your computer(s).

Prescreen the video and decide whether a school counselor or school health professional should sit in the class while the video is being shown. At a minimum, inform these individuals about when the video will be shown and about its content. Make the video available to them if they wish to view it. If one of these individuals chooses to attend the class, ask them to respond to specific questions that arise but not to interrupt the flow of the activity. As with other activities, students may have questions near the beginning of the activity that will be answered at a later point.

Review the video in advance so you can help students identify and keep track of which individual they are to focus on while watching the video.


Web activity icon or DVD icon

Activity 1: Like Any Other Kid

  1. Ask students to recall information from previous lessons. In particular, ask them to recall the definition for mental illness that they learned in Lesson 2. Also, ask them to remember what they learned about treatments for mental illness in Lesson 4.

Before they watch the video, students should remember that mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors (or all three) and that causes the person difficulty in functioning. Students should also recall that mental illnesses are treatable with medications and/or psychotherapy.

Note to teachers: The concepts developed in the preceding lessons prepare the students for watching this video. Although it might be tempting to use this video in isolation from the rest of the unit, its real purpose is to reinforce concepts learned in the earlier lessons and to see how those concepts apply to real people. Students who don’t understand the foundation concepts are likely to draw misconceptions about mental illnesses.

  1. Inform students that they will be watching a video that includes four people telling about their experience with a mental illness. Distribute Master 5.1, My Story. Each student will need one copy. Ask students to read through the items on the master so they will have an idea of the kind of information they should be listening for during the video. Inform students that they can use this master while watching the video to write brief notes and reminders about what they see and hear. They do not need to write in complete sentences or worry about turning it in to you later.

You can either ask students to read the master silently or ask several students to read sections aloud in class. Answer any questions they may have about the items on the master. Make sure that students understand that the questions on this master are to help them identify important points to listen for.

The video presents a great deal of information, and some points are more subtle than others. The questions on the master will help students anticipate things to listen for and help focus their attention. While the video is playing, it is important that students concentrate more on it than on writing answers—they can fill in more details later when they discuss the questions with their group (Step 5).

  1. Ask students to count off using numbers 1 to 4. Students will, according to their numbers, focus on one of the individuals on the video. For example, all of the students that counted off as “1” will focus on the same individual, the “2”s will all focus on another individual, and so forth. Ask students to sit with other classmates who have the same number.

Students will watch the complete video and hear the stories of all four individuals. However, to make it easier for them to pick out as much detail as possible, students will focus on different individuals. Later in the activity, students will, through class discussion, incorporate more information about the other individuals.

  1. Using a projection system, show the video Like Any Other Kid to the class. As each of the four individuals appears onscreen, identify the student number that corresponds to that individual.

The use of a DVD player and television, if available, may be the easiest way to show the video to the class. However, if such a system is not available, you can access the video from the Web site and show it using a projection system. If neither of these systems is available, you can have students divide into small teams of three to four students (each group composed of students with the same count-off number) and watch at multiple computers stationed around the room. If you have students working at different computers, you will need to circulate among the groups to help them identify which individual they are focusing on. On the Web site, the video is divided into three sections. Have students watch all three sections one after the other. (Having the video in three sections makes downloading easier and will help when students wish to review specific sections later.)

As the video begins, you will need to help students identify the individual they should focus on. Make sure you have previewed the video beforehand so you are comfortable knowing which individual onscreen corresponds to each number. For example, the first girl who appears on the video is Individual #1, the second individual would correspond to Individual #2, and so forth. Make sure that you have reviewed the video beforehand so you can identify the individuals easily.

  1. Ask students to work in their teams to answer the questions on Master 5.1 for the individual they focused on. Help students understand that the video may not include direct answers by each individual for each of the questions, but that they can make inferences from what the individual did say. Circulate among the teams to listen as they discuss their answers, and ask guiding questions if teams are confused about how to answer the questions.

Each individual on the video may not have spoken directly about each of the questions on Master 5.1. For some of the answers, students may need to draw a conclusion based on a number of different comments made by a given individual. However, students can usually derive some information about each individual and relate it to the questions on the master.

Students may want to view the video again to complete their answers. Depending on the setup you are using, you can show the entire video again to the whole class or let teams watch segments of their choosing (either on a display system or individual computer monitors). If students want to see a specific segment of the video again, use your DVD player controls to advance to that segment.

Video Segment Segment Duration
Music and Title 00:44
About My Problems 11:48
Some Understand…Others Just Don’t Get It 5:20
What It Means To Be Supportive 5:48
Closing Credits 00:28
  1. Convene a class discussion to summarize the information presented in the video. Display a transparency of Master 5.2, Telling Their Own Stories—A Summary, and complete answers to the questions as a class, with different teams contributing information from the individual they focused on.

The primary pedagogical point for this class discussion is to give students a chance to see that although the four individuals on the video have different mental illnesses and different experiences with mental illness, there are some things that apply to all of the cases. The class discussion will help students reach this conclusion. After students provide answers for the different individuals on the video, you might prompt students to think about the similarities among individuals that are brought up. The extent of the class discussion will vary depending on the time available and student interest. In addition to the questions provided on Master 5.2, students will likely bring up their own observations and questions for discussion.

Students may also mention situations in their own, their family’s, or their friends’ lives. If this happens, tell them that it might not be appropriate to discuss this with the class and that you would rather talk to them privately at the end of class. If appropriate, you might suggest the student talk to a school counselor or school nurse. As indicated in A Special Note: Teaching about Mental Illness in the Classroom, be aware of local or national resources that can help people learn more about specific mental illnesses or about getting help. You can also refer to the organizations listed in Additional Resources for Teachers. Also, be prepared for students’ trying to diagnose themselves or someone else in the class because of what they see in the video. As with other lessons in this curriculum supplement, the diagnosis of a mental illness requires the expertise of a qualified mental health professional. Reinforce to students that they are not equipped to make a diagnosis based on what they have learned here.

Sample answers to the questions on Masters 5.1 and 5.2 are provided below. Direct answers for all of the questions are not provided on the video for each of the individuals. Students can simply say that the information is not provided, or they can make some inferences based on what is on the video.

Question 1. What mental illness does the person have?

Question 2. When did it start?

The answers to this were not explicitly stated in all of the cases. Individual #2 indicates she was diagnosed in the eighth grade but could remember having problems in school in third or fourth grade. Individual #4 states that she was about 11 years old. Although the other two individuals don’t give a specific age at which their mental illness began, you can assume it was during their teenage years, probably several years before the interview.

Question 3. How did the illness affect the person’s thoughts?

Note to teachers: For Questions 3 through 6, students might list their answers in a different category (thought, feeling, or behavior) from the one you might use, or they might include a response in multiple categories. Some observations are difficult to classify as only thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. As long as students can justify their reasons for placing a response in a particular category, various answers are acceptable. The purpose of having students list responses as thoughts, feelings, or behaviors is to reinforce the definition of mental illness that students learned previously.

Individual #1: negative self-talk, concentrating on covering up her depression

Individual #2: trouble paying attention, forgetting things

Individual #3: thought mother was trying to harm him, blackouts, worried about grades

Individual #4: hearing voices, seeing things that weren’t there

Question 4. How did the illness affect the person’s feelings?

Individual #1: worthlessness, feeling sad a lot, angry at herself, disappointed with herself

Individual #2: angry a lot, confused about why she is having these problems, felt bad about herself

Individual #3: uncomfortable around people, flat emotions

Individual #4: scared by hallucinations

Question 5. How did the illness affect the person’s behaviors?

Individual #1: feeling tired a lot, crying, feeling sluggish, “acting” to cover up her depression, suicide attempt, cutting

Individual #2: disrupting class, talking in class, forgetting homework, not listening

Individual #3: stayed away from people, difficulty keeping his grades up in school, somewhat slurred speech

Individual #4: saw things that weren’t there (red eye dots), heard voices, skipped school

Question 6. Did the illness cause the person difficulty in his or her life? In what ways?

Individual #1: Yes, she worked to cover up her problems, she expended energy to cover up her problems, she didn’t socialize much.

Individual #2: Yes, her grades went down, she didn’t have much hope for success in the future, she felt alone and different from other people.

Individual #3: Yes, he felt uncomfortable around people, didn’t have many friends, friends wouldn’t talk to him much anymore, and he seemed to feel isolated.

Individual #4: This may be difficult for students to answer clearly. This individual states that her symptoms now don’t interfere with her life (implying that they did previously). She also implies that she didn’t realize how her symptoms were affecting her life when she first started having them.

Question 7. What kind of treatment did the individual get?

Individual #1: hospitalization, counseling

Individual #2: medication, counseling

Individual #3: hospitalization, medication, seeing a therapist

Individual #4: hospitalization, medication, seeing a therapist

Question 8. How has the individual’s life changed after treatment?

Individual #1: No direct information is given, but you could infer that she is not cutting or attempting suicide any more.

Individual #2: Her grades improved, she is more hopeful about success in future, and she feels more understanding for other people.

Individual #3: He played on the varsity baseball team, his grades got better, he goes out more, and he believes in himself more.

Individual #4: Her symptoms are much better and don’t interfere with her life. She doesn’t see red dots in people’s eyes or believe in the “anti”s.

Question 9. In what ways were other people important to each of the individuals in the video?

Each of the individuals in the video mentions that having someone to talk to is important. Some individuals talk about how friends can help, and others talk about the role of family. Therapists are also mentioned as playing important roles in their lives. Individual #1 spoke about how her friends were the first ones to alert adults to her problems and her destructive behavior. Obviously, their role was important in identifying her depression and finding help. Most of the individuals mentioned that several different people, including friends, family, and therapists, were important in helping them cope with their mental illness.

Note to teachers: The video contains information about the experiences of four individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Because these represent specific cases, there may be some differences from how other cases are managed. Some specific comments raised in the video that might cause confusion or elicit comments among students include the following:

  1. Conclude the activity by addressing any questions that students may have after watching the video. Can students see any similarities among the four individuals, even though they have different mental illnesses?

Students should be able to draw some general conclusions from the video. For example, students can see that each individual had their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors altered in a way that negatively affected their lives. Treatment improved each of their situations and relieved their symptoms. The support of family and friends helped each of the individuals cope with their situation.

You may also wish to have students consider how the material presented in the video relates to information they learned in the previous activities. For example, does the information presented in the video support the idea that mental illnesses have similarities to other diseases? How does the information on the video relate to what they learned in Lesson 4 about treatment for mental illnesses?

Lesson Wrap-Up

assessment icon
The wrap-up for this lesson is different in format from the wrap-ups in previous lessons. The series of questions in Master 5.3 can be used for individual students to assess their understanding of mental illness. The teacher can also collect the students’ responses to evaluate what students are thinking about mental illness at this stage in the unit.

Give each student one copy of Master 5.3, Things to Think About. Ask students to answer the questions either on the master or in their journals.

Lesson 5 Organizer
Activity 1: Like Any Other Kid
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

Begin the activity by asking students to recall information from previous lessons, including the definition for mental illness and types of treatment for mental illnesses.

Step 1

Inform students that they will be watching a video of four individuals telling about their experiences with a mental illness. Give each student one copy of Master 5.1, My Story. Have students read through the questions so they will know what information to listen for while watching the video. Answer any questions students may have about Master 5.1.

master iconStep 2

Ask students to count off using numbers 1 to 4. Inform students that they will be focusing on a specific individual in the video based on their numbers.

Step 3

Show the video Like Any Other Kid to the class using a projection system. If having students watch in teams of three or four through an Internet connection, organize them into teams that have the same numbers. Watch the video straight through the first time.

Web activity iconStep 4

DVD icon

Organize the class into teams of three to four students who have the same number. Have students respond to the questions on Master 5.1. Allow students time to watch the video or segments of the video again to clarify their responses.

Step 5

Convene a class discussion to summarize the information in the video. Display a transparency of Master 5.2, Telling Their Own Stories—A Summary, to help guide the discussion.

transparency iconStep 6

Conclude the activity by addressing any questions that students might raise after watching the video. Ask students to consider any similarities they can see among the four individuals on the video.

Step 7
Lesson Wrap-Up
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

Distribute one copy of Master 5.3, Things to Think About, to each student. Ask students to write brief answers to the three questions now that they have seen personal accounts of people who have a mental illness.

master iconWrap-Up
master icon= Involves copying a master.
Web activity icon= Involves using the Internet.
DVD icon= Involves using a DVD.
transparency icon= Involves making a transparency.

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