I bring up mental health a lot here. Usually, it’s in regards to the topic itself and not connecting it to writing. Well, I’m going to switch that up here. Wednesday and Friday are going to be some 7 Tip lists for depression and anxiety in fiction while today is going to be more of an open forum. The question:
Do you think mental health issues should be avoided or tackled in fiction, especially genres like fantasy?
Personally, I think it depends on the author. You can’t force someone to include a subject or trait that they aren’t comfortable with. They might know enough about the mental issue to use it, which means research is needed. It could also be that they are afraid of offending a sufferer with an incorrect depiction or to trigger something. Since we are talking about a sensitive situation, it’s totally understandable that one would feel this way. Honestly, I don’t think it’s fair to attack an author who tries and fails to depict a mental health issue even if they were being a jerk about it. Respond with a rational criticism and try to educate if possible.
That also brings me to the other side of the spectrum that I’ve seen. Some authors will take the more sensational version of a mental health issue for dramatic effect. Anxiety-riddled heroes who can barely get out of the house. Depressives who cry every time they speak and are covered in self-inflicted scars. OCD is a term that is flung around so casually that it loses all meaning to some people. Don’t even get me started on dissociative identity disorder, which used to be split personality disorder . . . Mostly because I’m still not 100% sure on how to work this one. Anyway, these extremes can exist in reality, but they aren’t always the case. To make it look like this is the only way it can go can be upsetting to those who suffer in a different way. Especially when your depiction causes readers to expect those extremes in sufferers, so they doubt the words of anyone suffering in any other way.
This really is a delicate topic to add into your stories. With fantasy, I think there are magical ways to cushion the blow or explain why it isn’t widespread. Kind of a big cop out there, but it’s something. At least with the more severe mental illnesses because you have psychics, casters, and healers out there. One thing that is a dangerous tactic here is to use mental health issues as ‘curses’. It’s pretty easy to do and comes off like a good idea when it’s in an outline stage. The brave hero is sudden afflicted by anxiety or depression or a phobia or OCD or any number of things. Yet, this can backfire and come off as insulting because it makes the conditions appear evil. They’re not.
As I continue writing, I’m considering adding some mental health issues into my stories, but I’m still twitchy on trying. There is going to be an addiction subplot in one book series, which stems from severe grief and depression. I don’t know if this counts since it’s a deep sadness with a source and not a depression with no clear catalyst. Anxiety is one that I might consider more because I have a better idea of that one. I guess another reason for me personally is that I really want to maintain the escapism and heavy topics like this can shatter that illusion if you’re not careful. They won’t be the main focus of a story, so they’ll be there as subplots or character traits. This kind of prevents me from tackling the really heavy ones because those need a lot of attention and focus.
Anyway, what do you think about this topic? Also, if anyone ever wants to write up a guest post on a specific mental health issue then feel free to ask for a spot. Awkward request, but I feel like I’m limited in experience and knowledge here.