Hey, everybody! Mental health issues impact a lot of people, and it’s important to represent them accurately in fiction. Here are some tips to help you write about mental health—let’s get started!
What’s your motivation for writing about mental health issues? Is it to eliminate stigmas? Provide clarity? Be realistic to your characters and plot? It’s important to remember these reasons. Keeping them at the forefront of your mind will help you to avoid being insensitive or painting a bad picture of people suffering from these issues. Mental health issues are a real problem for a lot of people, and you need to write them with empathy and understanding.
This is crucial when writing in general, but becomes even more important with topics such as mental health. The last thing you want to do is rely on stereotypes, which already have a negative impact on people dealing with these problems. The way society views mental health is often clouded by misrepresentation in media, and this is a large part in why people with mental health issues often aren’t taken seriously or given help. As writers, we are responsible for painting the correct picture of these problems and tearing away those misconceptions.
Research online can be extremely helpful, especially if you don’t suffer from the issue personally. It can help you understand how the problem works, why it might occur, how it impacts the people who have it, and so on. However, this can only help you so much.
Odds are that you or someone you know suffers from a mental health disorder. Most people experience a form of anxiety or depression at some point in their lives. Draw from personal experiences where you can, and talk with people you know that deal with these problems.
Keep in mind: all mental health issues are not the same, and even the same issue can have different impacts on different people. It would be optimal to consult with multiple people that have the exact issue you’re describing in your work, but this isn’t always easy. If you want more information from people about the problem, you could check out the blogs and YouTube videos of people who talk about their experience.
Not Just Plot
Mental health issues don’t just pop up when convenient, usually it’s quite the opposite. If you’re writing mental health issues, they can’t just show up whenever the character needs to lose a battle or something. They should be present throughout the character’s journey, just like they are present in the daily lives of real people. Mental health disorders aren’t a scapegoat or comic relief, they should be more than just a plot device or stock character. They are part of your character. Would your character’s red hair vanish halfway through the story? No. Mental health issues aren’t physically visible most of the time, but they are just as real. And, just like red hair, they shouldn’t totally define your character.
Personally, this was a large part of the reason I included mental health themes in OUTLIERS. Not only was it realistic, but I was tired of seeing so many poor representations of issues that myself or family members actually struggle with. Renee doesn’t just struggle immediately after the Takers destroy her family or when something big is happening—this is an emotional battle for her throughout the book.
As I’ve said a million times—beta readers are your best friends! Betas and sensitivity readers will help to point out issues they found with your story, including how you depict metal health problems. They can point out things you might have missed, and sensitivity readers can often show you things you might not have thought of.
In short, it’s critical to represent mental health problems accurately and empathetically, especially with all of the misconceptions out there!
If you are struggling with mental health issues, please know that you are not alone. You matter, and it is always okay to ask for help when you need it. Therapy and medication help so many people, and they are nothing to be ashamed of.
Do you write about mental health? What’s a book you feel approaches it really well?
Thanks for reading! I post new content on Saturdays, so be sure to follow and stay up-to-date! 🙂 Please let me know what you think in the comments, and let me know what you want me to blog about next!
With all of this in mind, go out and write your masterpiece!