Today, Bookish Creation has kindly offered to add her thoughts on mental illness in literature. She brought up several points I hadn’t heard before and gave me much to think about. Check it out.
I think that there are several things that need to change within the literary world – and the entertainment world in general – when it comes to mental health. As many have mentioned, misrepresentation of certain mental illnesses is really harmful no matter what, but I think the change needs to go deeper than that. Most books that we see that are accurately describing mental illnesses tend to tackle the illnesses that are thought of as larger illnesses, scary ones, or ones born from tragedy that causes social skill changes in the character. While the ones that accurately look into this are good, I really feel that there needs to be a lot more stories that have characters that face the illnesses that are thought of by most people as less severe. These, after all, tend to be more common and can still cause difficulty for the people facing them.
Every day, people face mental health issues like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, not too severe personality disorders, social anxiety, hypochondria, and many more. While these mental health concerns don’t always require hospitalization or heavy medications, they still present people who have them with obstacles that can be difficult for them to overcome. This becomes a real issue for patients because it can cause those who care about them to misjudge them or even cause them to lose relationships all together. I honestly feel that discontent and loss of relationship is generally not due to rudeness or deliberate attempts to hurt anyone, but rather is caused by a lack of understanding about the problems the patients face. I really feel that if we start to include these mental health concerns accurately in main characters in fiction, we might start to bridge the gap of that lack of understanding more.
There is another problem that I have noticed when it comes to mental health in fiction: It tends to be the main obstacle or plot point the story focuses on. Fiction tends to take mental health issues and turn them into these almost opponents that the characters need to face. When the story revolves around the health condition it can cause it to become more frightening. This is we tend to look at the focal point of a story as being inherently negative to a point where we reject it as being something we want to deal with in our lives. This only leads to people with mental health conditions to being ostracized more and treated harshly. I truly feel that if the characters in fiction have the condition as just part of their character, much like they may have some acne or poor eyesight, yet they face some other issue that the story focuses on, we will normalize these conditions while bringing awareness to how these conditions can hinder or affect people. Bottom line here is, the main plot point that characters must overcome will almost always be viewed as bad and scary, so we shouldn’t always make mental health the main plot point if we want to remove that fear.
All in all, I feel that mental health needs to be represented more in books as being a normal part of the characters‘ lives. We should be bringing awareness through normalization rather than trying to use real health conditions as villains or problems to be frightened of.