This past week our editorial team spent a lot of time discussing the content that seems to be missing or quite scarce in the world of reading and writing. We each considered what we would do if we could change one thing about the literary world as it is now. My choice would be centered around mental health. In the past few years the topic of mental illnesses and treatment has received more support than I’ve ever seen before, which is absolutely amazing. However, there is still quite a lack of recognition and acceptance. Just today I overheard a conversation between two young women where one mentioned she had to change doctors because her physician didn’t encourage treatment of mental illness, to which the other replied, “no yeah, my mom doesn’t believe in that either.” Books about mental illnesses, containing characters with mental health issues, and seeking out healthy treatments for such conditions are not common. Well, unless you are actively seeking out only that genre. I have only accidentally stumbled upon such a book two, maybe three times throughout my entire reading career.
There should be characters who have Anxiety, Depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some stories should look at the lives of those who live with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Schizophrenia and so on. Books that delve into how these illnesses can take a toll and how strong the people are who battle them every day are as well. How different the support systems can be, how acceptance isn’t always guaranteed, how treatment methods have changed dramatically, and how belief in such treatments and the illnesses themselves are either a hit or miss. These books shouldn’t be written and published just for the sake of having them out there in the world as a token, they should be created in order to help establish a sense of normalcy. To show readers that the characters they confide in share the same pains and go through similar situations, to let them know they aren’t alone.
I think it’s also important to acknowledge and recognize how we are affected when someone we love has a mental illness, in both the good and the bad effects. It isn’t easy to watch someone you care for struggle with something like Depression or OCD, and it isn’t always easy to understand how they feel. Having more books published that includes this kind of content will not only be helpful to those with these illnesses but, to their support systems, and those looking for a little but more understanding on the subject as well. Society’s view on the mentally ill is slowly on the rise, but representing such individuals in books could really help us make it to that next needed level of acceptance.
On a positive note, I have noticed that the most common occurrences of mental health representation in literature is in YA books. And special attention should be paid to the young adult audience, they are arguably the age group that needs the most support in this situation. Even children’s books (that address this topic in an appropriate manner) could be extremely beneficial in creating compassion within our younger generations. The general fiction and non-fiction are in need of a boost as well. Which writers are willing to stand up?