Things We’re Tired of Seeing in Books About Mental Health

Mental-Health-Awareness-Week-Logo.pngHello, everyone! This week is mental health awareness week run by the Mental Health Foundation. As this is an area I’m really passionate about both personally and as a psychology student, to do my bit I’ve decided to run a blog feature where I and guest bloggers talk about mental health related topics paired with books and/or blogging to help raise awareness. 🙂 Today I’m welcoming Leah to the blog!

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Hi readers of Becky’s blog, my name is Leah and I’m usually found hanging out over at Perks of Being a Bookworm, thank you, Becky for letting me guest on your blog today!

As you might have noticed, this week Becky has been featuring lots of bloggers talking about various different topics within mental health for Mental Health Awareness Week, being someone who has been mentally unwell on several occasions I do love coming across books that feature mental health as a subject. You know how it is, it’s great to see yourself in the mediums you consume. It helps when you feel you belong and there are loads of great books that deal with mental health fabulously. However, there are also a lot of tropes that I, for one, am very bored of seeing, so here is a plea to writers everywhere, please avoid the following things!

Firstly, romanticising mental illness.

You have no idea how much this frustrates me, mental illness, like any illness actually is not cute or romantic. There is nothing fun about crippling anxiety or having to act out a routine because your mind tells you to, there is nothing quirky and profound about being trapped in your own head thinking about your demise, so if you could stop with all that, I’d be grateful. You wouldn’t have a character using their diabetes as a quirky personality trait now would you?

                  The Virgin Suicides    Gone Girl
Some good novels, that also have the possibly damaging/problematic romanticising of mental illness.

This point leads me onto trivialising mental illness.

I think this is one of the most damaging things a book can do. The beauty of having characters dealing with mental health means that it helps put these problems into perspective for readers that aren’t experienced with it, but there is nothing more damaging than a book giving off the idea that mental illness doesn’t exist. I have lost count of the number of YA books I’ve read where characters make fun of other secondary characters for having eating disorders or for self-harming or generally being down, eurgh kannst du nicht.

I also have a massive problem with demonising mental illness.

Ok – yeah, so I know earlier I was all like, don’t romanticise mental illnesses, they’re not cute! Well, they’re also not evil! They’re just part of someone’s chemistry.

Whenever I read fantasy and paranormal books – you know the ones, where one character isn’t aware of the paranormal world and then when they find out about it they immediately think they’re having some kind of psychotic delusion? Yeah, those ones. The ones when said character then becomes relieved because finding out that monsters exist and being kidnapped by mythical creatures is apparently preferable to mental health problems.

Whenever I read those stories, the message is very clear to me. Having a mental illness is the worst, and I should be ashamed of it. At the risk of repeating myself, eurgh. I ain’t about that life, and I certainly don’t need that kind of thing on my bookshelf!

                  Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan      The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong
Some great YA novels that may unintentionally reinforce mental health as being a horrible ‘life sentence’ giving a doom and gloom perspective.

Because I don’t want to bring so much negativity to Becky’s blog, I’ll wrap this up with the most annoying trope you can possibly find, being miraculously cured by a romance.

Becky and I had a long rant about this over on my blog once. No. Just no. You have no idea how many young adult novels I’ve read that involve a boy, usually with depression, attending therapy or being sectioned, who is somehow miraculously cured by the arrival of a cute girl who helps them see how beautiful and worth living life is. Yes, sometimes we do meet people who help with all that, but depression really isn’t that easy to cure and it gives totally the wrong message!

A Million Little SnowflakesA Million Little Pieces had a psychiatric ward insta-love which worrying insinuated romance ‘cured’ mental illness.

So there you have it, a few things that there should be less of in books about mental health.

Thank you Becky for letting me vent on your blog and to anyone reading this who is struggling a little right now, remember, don’t be ashamed to ask for help, we’re always being told by the news that mental health provision in the UK isn’t great, while there is a degree of truth in that, having support is always better than suffering alone, so do go and speak to a GP or other health professional, that’s what they are there for!

Have any of these points irked you when reading books featuring mental illness? Are there any pet hates/things you are tired of seeing misrepresented? Let me know in the comments!

 

Leah
Leah is a journalist, blogger and wannabe film maker who has an unhealthy obsession with words, nerdy memorabilia and cake. You can usually find her at Perks of Being a Bookworm.

 

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Thanks so much for guest posting, Leah, I 100% agree with all you points! The demonising mental illness is a particularly interesting one I hadn’t thought about much before considering I read a lot of supernatural/fantasy YA!

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13 thoughts on “Things We’re Tired of Seeing in Books About Mental Health

  1. Insta-love curing mental illness? That’s taking romanticizing to a whole, new level 😐
    Wonderful post.. I think sometimes the trickiest thing in fiction is to represent some issues as they are without too many embellishments.

  2. I’ve not read many books with mental illness, but those I have were OKAY. Although it was quite a while ago, so my perspective might have changed in that time. I haven’t heard of insta-love/curing mental illness with romance, but that’s almost insulting. I have anxiety, and it’s not something that can be cured; in fact, it’ll probably be with me for the rest of my life, so to have this representation of it being ‘cured’ by someone is ridiculous and offensive, to be honest.

    Great post.

    • It’s really good to hear that you’ve had positive experiences with novels featuring mental illness! That makes me feel happy. 🙂 There are a lot of amazing ones out there, there are just also a few not so good ones, or novels that just miss the mark giving a slightly offensive or dangerous message.
      Insta-love curing MH is actually the one I’ve come across the most, and you’re right, it is insulting! I completely agree with you, and I’m sorry to hear that you also suffer from anxiety, it’s a tough thing to battle.

      Glad you enjoyed! Thanks for commenting, Kat.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post and liked the idea of this mental health awareness week with a bookish twist. I really felt like there was a space in the blogging community for it and just hoped that others would be interested in reading it. Thanks for visiting!

  3. A really interesting and thoughtful perspective. Literature is such a huge medium and it’s so important that mental health is portrayed in realistic ways that don’t alienate or belittle the suffering. I feel ya, Leah!

  4. Fantastic post- and this point in particular really made me (a person who doesn’t deal with mental illness) sit up and take notice:
    “The ones when said character then becomes relieved because finding out that monsters exist and being kidnapped by mythical creatures is apparently preferable to mental health problems.
    I’ve seen this so often as a one-off line, a paragraph, and nothing more in so many stories- and it never once occurred to me that that would be a slap in the face for someone who deals with mental illness. It’s a point that I can safely say would never have occurred to me otherwise in terms of response to unusual things in literature, and it’s one I’m glad to be aware of now. Thank you for writing this!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed, Maggie, and I’m sure Leah will be delighted to see you liked her post!

      I’m so happy you picked up on that specific point, because it’s also the one I hadn’t thought about much and like you say, it happens in SO MANY BOOKS. Specifically with more serious disorders like schizophrenia and psychosis which are often used as excuses for seeing ghosts/vampires/demons. If I suffered from these MH disorders I’d probably be annoyed! I will be more aware of this trope from now on for sure!

  5. A fantastically useful list for a writer!
    I’ll try not to let The Power of Love Cure All Problems in my stories, but I’m an old romantic. 🙂

    I think there needs to more of a delineation in fiction (and language in general, for that matter) between intense moods (such as sadness and loneliness…and even happiness) and mental illness, such as depression – things that are specific chemical imbalances in the brain.

    The words, “I’m so depressed” are banded around so much when what the person really means is, “I’m very sad.” (I know it’s one of your bugbears, Becky!)

    As an aside, I recently watched the Pixar movie “Inside Out” where the character was described as depressed, when they were really only very sad and homesick. One of the themes of the film is that being sad is normal, but reviewers seems to have interpreted this as meaning that being depressed is normal and healthy.

    • Ah, yes I’m sure! Every writer thinking of talking about MH should definitely have this as their last minute check off list, along with grammar and proofreading. 😛

      Don’t worry, Tony, I’m an old romantic too! A MH book can definitely still have a romance (most of them do) it’s just important that it’s portrayed right!

      I completely agree with you, and yes, it’s definitely one of my bugbears. Using mental health problems as adjectives – so not cool. I ALWAYS call it out if people do it in real life, which probably confuses them as I’m not normally an outspoken person – but I think it’s important and hopefully it means they won’t do it in the future. 🙂

      Ooh, I haven’t seen Inside Out but that’s an interesting comparison. Like you say it’s so important to distinguish between normal emotions and problematic ones.

  6. Pingback: May round up | The Perks of Being a Bookworm

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