Mental Health is an important topic, one that we are constantly encouraged to talk about in everyday life.
Where it once stood as a taboo subject, more and more people are sharing their experiences with mental health.
In doing so, there is an ever-growing demand for mental health to be discussed across all forms of media – especially books.
Books can act as an escape from reality for so many readers, and yet so much can be learned from them too.
Readers suffering from mental illnesses admit they want to see themselves represented in books, while readers without a mental illness want to see them acknowledged, in order for them to understand and learn more about them.
But over the years, it’s become common for mental health to become glamorised, with the popularity of books and TV shows making it almost trendy to relate to a mental illness.
The stereotypes are all there;
Depression is the lonely boy seen in black and white photographs online.
Anxiety is the socially awkward teenager who is quiet at parties.
Anorexia is the crying girl who won’t eat food in fear of putting on weight.
Charlotte Kardasz, 20, book blogger and Lincoln psychology student said: “Mental health can be shown for what it is – ugly, raw, and ultimately hell – without the need for sensationalising, glamorizing, or demonising anyone suffering from it. ”
She explained how mental illnesses can be used as a stereotype, with examples like Schizophrenia being a reason behind horror stories.
“The sensational, thrilling murderer will generate more box office revenue as it appeals to a much wider audience, and when creators see what is generating the most hits they create in kind.”
“The glamourous supply and demand ultimately hurts more people in the time it takes to entertain a few, and is a big reason for the stigma that surrounds mental health.”
To tell these stories, mental illnesses are often dramatised into something more, in order to be seen as entertaining and bring in an audience.
An example being the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why.
Originally published as a young adult book by Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why is the story of a girl who committed suicide leaving behind tapes to be passed around, each tape explaining one of the reasons why she decided to kill herself.
While the book and show do give a good overall message – you don’t know what anyone’s really going through, so be wary of your actions.
The story has still brought controversy, with the idea of the tapes overshadowing the actual suicide and mental health problems, turning the story into a murder mystery or revenge story.
“I don’t think Thirteen Reasons Why glamourised the situation as much as it promoted it.” Charlotte said.
“To an extent, it’s glamourised in the way Hannah almost has a celebrity status and everyone talks about her following her death, which some may find desirable and wish to emulate.”
It can be hard to get the balance right to tell a story without turning it into something dramatized to act as entertainment.
But society as a whole is gradually becoming better at this, and the understanding will continue to grow as we do so.
For books with good mental health representation, Charlotte recommends: Identical by Ellen Hopkins, Thin by Grace Bowman, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, and A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams.
A podcast will be coming soon, recommending more books discussing mental health issues.