Common Read aims to raise awareness of mental illness


This year’s Common Read breaks away from the traditional narratives of hero characters whose work and ideas change the world.

Kevin Breel’s “Boy Meets Depression” addresses depression and other general issues of mental health.

The Common Read Committee recognized a stigma surrounding mental health not just at South Dakota State University, but in society overall. Committee members became interested in raising awareness of and empathy toward mental health.

Shelly Bayer, assistant director at the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning and one of the Common Read Committee members, especially wanted to open dialogue about a mental-health-focused book.

“I feel like on a national level (mental health is) becoming a great concern on our campuses—not just SDSU, but campuses as a whole,” Bayer said. “In our society, there’s been a lot of conversations about mental illness and ways to promote stronger mental health, mental well-being and I just felt like the timing was right to take on that type of topic.”

The Common Read began in 2009 after the university looked to improve specific areas of student engagement based on feedback from the National Survey of Student Engagement. It was implemented as a piece of the First-Year Seminars’ curricula, Bayer said, and was designed “to raise the level of academic challenge at SDSU; enhance awareness of diverse perspectives; increase faculty and student interaction and encourage, serve and promote enriching and engaging experiences both in and outside of class.”

Book nominations are online and open for the public, faculty, staff and students to join the Common Read Committee to help select a book. The committee reads selections from a narrowed-down pool of titles and ultimately votes on the upcoming Common Read.

Bayer said it’s OK to talk about mental illness, to seek help if they’re struggling and that SDSU is a supportive, safe environment.

“We’re always thinking about how the students will relate, and the student perspective,” Bayer said.

Due to the authenticity of Breel’s novel, as well as the voice of his teenage-self narrating it, Bayer said the committee felt “Boy Meets Depression” was a relatable book for many SDSU students and that it was written in a way that would engage its readers.

Mental illness is a challenging topic, and the committee expressed concerns for how students dealing with mental illnesses would perceive the book. Committee members asked one student, who was working through mental illness, for his perspective.

“When I said we’re concerned about this book because we don’t want to make a mistake with it, his comment was, ‘The only mistake you could make is by not doing it.’ And that was what kind of motivated me to be courageous, because it is a rough topic,” Bayer said.

Amanda Muller, sophomore electrical engineering major, read “Boy Meets Depression” because she is a teacher’s assistant for Honors 100 and thought that, because the other students read it, she should too.

She believes that mental health is an important issue that doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as it should, and that right now is a great time to start the conversation.

“I think it has reminded me that everyone has their own struggles in life, and no matter how it might feel, no one is alone in their struggle,” Muller said. “I actually started using the counseling service at the Wellness Center this year for stress [and] anxiety. I am not sure if it was because of the book or not, but it didn’t hurt to hear the author’s experience with it.”

Bayer is pleased SDSU has the courage to take on the challenge of addressing mental health and illness sooner rather than later. She believes mental well-being, which is often avoided as a topic in society, is crucial to a person’s overall wellbeing.

“My biggest hope is that it actually creates hope for many people,” Bayer said. “That when they read this they realize they’re not alone—whether it’s a family member, or a friend, or a roommate or maybe themselves, that there’s hope.”