One person in a hundred will experience schizophrenia. While most cases appear in the late teens or early adulthood, schizophrenia can appear for the first time when a person is middle aged or even older. Generally, the earlier the symptoms of the illness develop, the more severe it is. While it does affect both men and women, schizophrenia is more common in men and is usually more severe in men.

Schizophrenia is a frightening brain disorder to watch unfold in another, but is particularly frightening for the individual experiencing the symptoms. The disease affects the way a person acts, thinks, and sees the world; people with schizophrenia have an altered perception of reality. They may have auditory or visual hallucinations, speak in strange or confusing ways, or have paranoid delusions, believing that others are trying to harm them or that they are being constantly watched. In response to trying to negotiate the line between the frightening realities created by the illness, people with schizophrenia may withdraw from the outside world or act out in confusion and fear.

There are a number of guides to help the lay-person understand this particular illness.

Although the picture painted in Tell Me I’m Here is quite hopeless, in that getting the appropriate support and help – as sufferer or carer – was nearly impossible for the Devesons, things have improved significantly today. There is still considerable work to be done, but there is more hope with treatments and support, and acknowledgement that mental illness is as much an illness as any physically manifesting condition.

Mental illness – social response

Pre-reading activity:

To understand the importance of this text, students need to have a grasp of mental illness, both how it is perceived in contemporary Australian society and how it was seen and treated in the past.


The class is to be split into two groups. Half will be concerned with the history of mental illness, half will focus their work on more contemporary understandings and social responses to mental illness.

It is suggested that using the appointment of Professor Patrick McGorry as Australian of the Year (2010) as the point to distinguish history and contemporary response, largely because his work during that year did change the landscape with regard to the general public’s understanding of mental illness (and thus the public purse) significantly.

The history of mental illness in the English-speaking world cannot be without reference to Bedlam (now Bethlehem Royal Hospital). Although the hospital operated from much earlier, perhaps the historical overview could start in the 1800s.


You will have been assigned a group – “past” or “present” – by your teacher.

Past: 1800 to 2009 (although you may wish to look earlier than this).

Present: 2010 to the present day.

Past group

As a whole group, make a timeline of approaches to mental health. (Hint: looking at how mental illness has been treated will provide you with useful timelines and social attitudes.)

Determine the most important turning points in approaches and attitudes based on this timeline.

Split the timeline amongst members of the group.

Each individual or sub-group is to make a Pinterest “page/s” to share with the class.

Present group

As a whole group, research how mental health is dealt with in Australian society today.

Split into sub-groups based on this research. (Hints: media perception, how mental health is approached in schools, how mental health is approached in hospitals, how police are trained to deal with mental health, what support systems are in place, what does the research suggest now… all are aspects that could be considered.)

Each individual/sub-group is to make a Pinterest “page/s” to share with the class.(ACELT1639)   (ACELT1812)   (ACELY1749)   (ACELY1752)   (ACELY1754)   (ACELY1776)   (EN5-8D)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-2A)

Close study

A narrative with an expository function, Tell Me I’m Here is a hybrid text. Deveson uses the narrative style of the memoir/autobiography, but the book also includes (amongst a range of other genres/forms) diary entries (e.g. p. 80), email communications from the health care professionals (e.g. pp. 76–7), Georgina’s poetry (e.g. pp. 58–59), quotes from authoritative texts (e.g. p. 64), epigraphs, and notes taken by Jonathan’s probation officer (e.g. p. 75).

This hybrid style is intended to educate the reader, as well as facilitate Deveson telling her and Jonathan’s story in a way that engenders sympathy in the reader. Because she does not assume reader knowledge, she includes various forms of data and multiple perspectives to provide research data to the reader in a way which is seamlessly part of a narrative. In this way, Deveson can show Jonathan’s humanity in a way which encourages readers to understand that his behaviour is the result of an illness, not a lack of control or character.


Identify 10 genres/forms employed by Deveson in her book.

In pairs, research the usual use and linguistic styles of these genres/forms.

Each pair will choose one genre/form to present to the class (preferably with no cross-over of choice in the class as a whole).

The presentation will include:

  • the linguistic features of the genre/form;
  • how this genre/form is usually used;
  • how Deveson uses this genre/form in her book, with at least one specific example from the book;
  • what the purpose of using this genre/form might be (i.e. the intended effect on the reader).

(ACELA1565)   (ACELA1570)   (ACELT1641)   (ACELT1642)   (ACELT1643)   (ACELY1750)   (ACELY1753)   (EN5-7D)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)   (EN5-1A)   (EN5-6C)

Task: The language of madness

“We do not use the word ‘mad’ anymore. We have banished it, together with words like ‘lunatic’ and ‘asylum’; even the word ‘insane’ is rarely heard. These words evoke oppressions of the past; today the terminology has changed, become more technical and distancing, yet our oppressions remain. They are the oppressions of neglect.” (p. 2)

As a class, do some research on the words for madness over time. (Click here for a good place to start!)


You will be writing two short newspaper articles. Both will cover the same facts/event. (If you are unsure of the conventions of the genre, check “How to Write a News Article”.) Each article should be 250–300 words in length.

The article will be about a series of events which took place in a public setting with a person suffering a psychotic breakdown, much like we had described to us by Deveson in Tell Me I’m Here.

Article one will be written in contemporary times.

  • Imagine that the event took place this year; you have interviewed by-standers; you were able to talk with the police/paramedics/social workers who were in the vicinity or came to the scene; you were able to talk with a parent or sibling of the person who is ill.

Article two will be based in the 1900s.

  • You are describing the same scenario as before and have access to the same people.

In your writing you will be using different language to describe what is going on. Pay particular attention to the adjectives used to describe the person suffering from the illness and the language of those around this person.

Once you have completed both articles, write a short analysis of approximately 250 words of what you see the impact of the different language has on a reader’s feelings towards those suffering from mental illness, and those who care for them.
(ACELA1564)   (ACELA1566)   (ACELA1571)   (ACELT1814)   (ACELT1815)   (ACELY1757)   (EN5-5C)   (EN5-6C)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)

Significance in the wider world

In part, Deveson’s book asks readers to consider how mental illness affects real people in the real world. Her own work, some of which is detailed in the book, to develop organisations and networks to support individuals and families and friends who have been impacted by mental illness may be used to inspire community action in students or within a school community.

Mental health/mental illness is a very real concern for many Australians. Involvement in community action can bring hope and a sense of achievement. In terms of developing student knowledge of the real-world implications of text content, involvement in a community action initiative provides authentic possibilities for students to share their skills and knowledge with a community outside the immediate classroom.

World Mental Health Day is marked every year on the same date: 10th of October.

Mental Health Week, which coincides with World Mental Health Day aims to activate, educate and engage Australians about mental health through a week of interactive events across the country including an official launch, community festivals, art exhibitions, music, theatre and seminars. For information visit Mental Health Vic (although this is a Victorian site, there are equivalent sites in other states).


To develop a series of informative and persuasive speeches for peers – either at a year level or whole school level – to demonstrate the importance of mental health awareness in our community.


To be most effective in terms of student learning, both with regard to understanding Deveson’s book and in terms of agitating for changing attitudes in a community, this task should be linked to performance/community action within the school. To achieve this, the students would need some time, both in and out of class, to establish complex and authentic responses. Two weeks of targeted work would be more than sufficient.

If it is not possible to develop a unit of work which involves a whole (or even part) school community, students can be asked to prepare and deliver speeches to the class.

Speeches, in both cases, should be approximately five minutes in length.


Have the class group/s split into small groups. Any assessment here will be based on collaborative work and outputs. It will be important to have a mix of strengths; flag this with the students (particularly if you are having them self-select groups).

Student roles will be:

  • public speaker,
  • researchers,
  • speech writer,
  • community action co-ordinator.

Sub-task 1:

Research mental health week & community bodies dealing with mental health issues.

This research will involve the usual print and web-based research, but will also include discussion and interviews with community groups.

This contact provides students opportunities to work with community agencies. This will be possible to varying degrees depending on the location of the school and school policies. However, if face-to-face meetings aren’t possible, skype, email, phone and other electronic media communications will serve the students well.

Students may wish to contact organisations such as: the Brotherhood of St LaurencePrahran MissionAsylum Seeker Resource CentreHeadspace and other agencies in your local areas.

Sub-task 2:

Advocate for mental health awareness in your school.

Develop a series of presentations to give to the school community to raise awareness about issues around mental health.

This may include:

  • presentation to the principal,
  • speech at assembly,
  • interviews with knowledgeable individuals from the community which can be presented to the year level.

This step could also include fund-raising/community action within the school.(ACELA1569)   (ACELY1813)   (ACELY1751)   (EN5-3B)   (EN5-2A)

Synthesising core ideas:

Rich assessment task 1 (Productive)

Deveson’s stated main aim for this text is to inform and to change how people with mental illness are treated in our society.

Other ways of producing text to achieve this educative function may be through a performance or the production of a short film.

To complete this task, students are to choose one option from column A and one option from column B.

Film plus script Episode/chapter from book
Performance plus script Documentary: reactions to mental illness

Students may choose to take an episode or chapter from Deveson’s book and create a script for live performance or a short film depicting the events in that episode/chapter.


Students can take one of the ideas in Deveson’s book with regard to the way people/society/institutions react to people with mental illness and produce a script for live performance or a short film.


Write a short analysis, of between 300 and 400 words, outlining the decisions made to develop the script and final performance/film.

Decisions to discuss include:

  • language styles and choices,
  • genre,
  • awareness of history,
  • a need to inform/educate.

This piece should be completed in coherent prose, using evaluative and analytical language.

Links to AC:E Year 10 / assessment rubric (PDF, 146KB).


Rich assessment task 2 (Receptive)

Deveson’s presentation of Jonathan’s experience is heart-wrenching and devastating. It is important that young people understand that the treatment for mental health concerns has changed considerably since the late 1980s. It is also important that they understand that society’s views on mental illness are not the same as those expressed and experienced by Deveson, her family and acquaintances at the time of her writing the book.

This receptive task is intended to both extend students and demonstrate that society has moved on from those very negative and judgemental responses to mental health issues.


Students are to write a comparative piece which will explore how social and/or institutional practices and attitudes with regards to people suffering mental illness have changed since 1990.

Based on teacher advice/instruction, students can either:

  • use a collection of media texts which look at approaches to mental health in today’s society. (This harks back to an earlier task; the material gathered for the Pinterest task could be used here.);
  • use excerpts from one of the plays/novels/films suggested below; or,
  • use one of the plays/novels/films suggested below,

in order to write the comparative response.

The response can be written in an analytical or creative style. The emphasis here is on looking at how different periods of history treat social and individual issues.

Students are to analyse two texts, including the interplay between character and setting, voice and structure, and how ideas, issues and themes are conveyed. This comparison facilitates the gaining of a deeper understanding of the ideas, issues and themes that reflect the world and human experiences.

The response should be approximately 800 words in length.

(The attached rubric can be modified to suit both the different text options and the different writing options. It is to be noted, though, that the creative response in this task is considered an analytical task.)

Suggested texts:

Cosi – either: Louis Nowra’s play or the 1996 film

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

Boomer and Me, Jo Case

My Life As An Aphabet, Barry Jonsberg

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon

The Black Balloon, 2008 film

United States of Tara, 2009-2011 TV series
Links to AC:E Year 10 / assessment rubric (PDF, 222KB).