Dawn Weseli Hopkins, MS, PhD

Hopkins portrait

Approaching mental health through authenticity and connection

Dawn Weseli Hopkins, MS, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, IU South Bend

Editor's Note: Learn more about free, confidential counseling options through SupportLinc Employee Assistance Program. Services are provided at no cost to all IU employees, IU Residents, Graduate Appointees, Fellowship Recipients, and their household members.

My Teaching Approach

Throughout my teaching career, one of the things I have valued most is connecting with my students. Due to my later entry into graduate school, I had to balance education and a family. Many of the students I teach at IU South Bend are balancing full-time work, a full load of classes, and a family; I am empathetic to the courage and persistence required to manage a schedule of that magnitude.

I also find it very important to create a positive classroom environment — a welcoming space that allows students to feel comfortable, ask questions, seek advice, and admit when they have met more than they can handle alone. I find that this characteristic is important when teaching challenging topics, such as science and statistics, which are often in my teaching load. I strive to maintain openness and provide encouragement to students, so that they visit my office hours readily and come away feeling less stressed and more confident in their abilities.

Sharing Meaning

Creating authentic connection and openness as a teacher means bringing your whole self to the classroom. It’s not about being stoic and robotic, it’s about being human. It’s not always easy, but the impact is worth it. 

Although extremely humbling, I have openly admitted my struggles with mental health. I remember the moment when I realized my clinical depression was neither a temporary imbalance nor a situational reaction, but a true lifelong journey. I grappled with this reality. I mourned the loss of being “normal.” I wrestled with the fact that a lifelong course of medication was necessary to keep my mind steady and my feet moving forward.

A few years into my journey with depression, I read the book Man’s Search for Meaning, by renowned Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl (2006). It was then I began to understand the power of my affliction, though mine could not parallel that of Dr. Frankl. In this text, Dr. Frankl recognizes three themes for shaping a meaningful life. Frankl held we must find:

  1. A vocation to direct our energy
  2. A redemptive perception of our suffering
  3. A community of people with which to share it

In teaching, I have truly found my life’s work and a community of people with whom to share not only my knowledge, but also my suffering — for the greater good.

My students and their learning environment are positively impacted by the simple act of discussing a topic most find uncomfortable or embarrassing.