December 27, 2017

Mental Health in Fiction and Why it Matters

If you or a loved one need someone to talk to, check out https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

In my article 5 Things You Need to Know About Writing Multi-ethnic and Bi-racial Characters,  I discussed the importance of diversity and representation in fiction. Lately, I've been itching to write an updated version concerning the representation of mental health in books, television, and the media. While we've made massive strides in Mental Health Awareness in recent years, the American culture is still very much lacking in sensitivity on the subject. 

Not long ago, I posted a chapter of my latest novel draft for critique (which basically means swapping opinions and tips with one another). To put the whole thing into context, the main character in my book is in prison for murder. One of the people critiquing my story messaged me with the suggestion that I should make him "crazier" because that would explain to the audience why he was a criminal. This is so wrong on so many levels. Having a villain's motives be "she's crazy" is not only really bad writing, it's an incredibly harmful worldview which equates morality with being Neurotypical. I will continue to write characters with Anxiety and Depression, but I refuse to sensationalize mental illness and misrepresent both the illness and the people who have it. I highly encourage others to do the same.


I'd like to take a moment to commend 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher and The Pact by Jodi Picoult for doing just this. In both books, teenage suicide plays a prominent role in the plot, without either glorifying or exploiting the situation to create controversy. Both show mentally unstable young women who do have other options but choose to take their own lives for a combination of complex reasons including depression and as a way of seeking a short-sighted solution to a potentially long-term problem. Perhaps most importantly, the books both show how much damage is left behind because of the character's choices. That, in my opinion, is the best way to handle such a difficult subject. With compassion. Pure sympathy and compassion for the victim and the family alike. 

Mental health is not something to be embarrassed about. Whether its suicidal thoughts or panic attacks, we all know somebody that struggles. We must work together as a society to break down the stigmas with realistic representations of mental health in fiction—most importantly, we must do it without exploiting the very people we choose to represent. It is our responsibility as basic human beings to not only aware but also compassionate about it.  

I'm always on the lookout for more books to read so if you have a recommendation, leave it in the comments section below. Don't forget to subscribe to my newsletter for more information about new releases and giveaways. Also, follow me on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook


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