Mental health disorders are a principal indicator of disability, with some 450 million people worldwide suffering from a chronic mental illness (Procknow, 2017). As more sufferers enroll in post-secondary schools and education programs, adult educators are actively addressing mental health in classrooms (Carette et al., 2018; MacKean, 2011; Procknow, 2017).
Given this increased throughput, there has arisen a need for research to focus on learners affected by mental disorders. As a result, these “mad” studies suggest a relationship between education attained and mental health distress. Those with lower education levels and those who are over-educated for their current jobs tend to report greater psychological distress (Bracke et al., 2014).
Adult education literature has focused on several areas connected to mental health issues, namely: identity development, andragogy, public pedagogy, arts-based education, and sanism in work environments (Procknow, 2017). In this article, I present a few thoughts about key elements of mad studies in higher education, a definition of sanism, the search for meaning, and a call for more research.
Sanism (SAYN-ism), sometimes referred to as “mentalism,” generally refers to the oppressive discrimination of people who are diagnosed, limited by, and/or treated for mental disorders (Procknow, 2017; Weller, 2012, p. 55). Like other forms of prejudice, sanism often arises from misinformed assumptions about other groups of people.
These presumptions can then surface when “others” exhibit particular behaviors or characteristics that reinforce false stereotypes. Common examples include saying, “She’s crazy,” when walking by a homeless person talking to herself, or avoiding people who behave erratically.