Updated: Apr 14, 2020
Hey y’all! It’s your girl Aña Anne, back on the blog doing another guest article! This time I’ll be alone, talking about writing mental illness accurately! Not only have I been studying this subject for years, but I have first hand experience with a range of different disorders. If you are clueless or just want to learn some more, please enjoy this article! And if you still have questions by the end, feel free to contact me on any of my platforms! Before I start, I’d like to thank Lev again for inviting me, and my Instagram followers, who gave me a lot of ideas for this. Thanks y’all!
**Warning: I can give you advice and basic information, but I am no expert. I sincerely apologize if I make a mistake somewhere in this article. Please don’t use this as your only source of research, I am very dumb. If you are going to write about mental illness, do your own research on reliable sites. Thank you**
Now let’s dive in.
Things to avoid
Demonizing mental illness. As someone who is Bipolar, it is really sad to me that most representation of Bipolar Disorder I see is violent and scary and borderline wrong. Did you know that mentally ill people are more likely to be victims than predators? Yeah, television doesn’t want you to know that. Of course it is in your rights to create a story with a mentally ill person who is the villain, but remember that people are impressionable. Please don’t use that to perpetuate the belief that all mentally ill folk are dysfunctional and dangerous. As well as that, a way you can balance things out is by including a second (or third or so on) character with mental illness who is functioning and harmless. This sends the message that you don’t have anything against the community.
Romanticizing mental illness. This is also a rather taboo subject among the community, because frankly we see it a lot. So much so that the last time I told someone I was Bipolar, he responded with “Oh, cool! That looks fun.” For those of you who don’t know: it’s not cool. It’s not fun. Depression is not an aesthetic, it’s not pretty and attractive, it’s scary and dark (and not in the sexy way). Bipolar is not the life of the party, it is unstable and uncertain. Anxiety is not hip and trendy, it’s crippling. Schizophrenia is not trippy and badass, it’s terrifying. Once again, do your research. Take this seriously. If you are writing a depressed character because you think it’s mysterious and hot, you aren’t ready to write about this subject. It’s stories like that that make the world think mental illness is a joke.
“Fixing” mental illness. Listen up: I don’t care how in love a character is, I don’t care what he or she or they have faced in their story. You. Cannot. Fix. Mental. Illness. Some can be cured, sure, but Bipolar Disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia, ADHD, and suchlike can’t just go away in the blink of an eye. And even though depression can be cured, it takes treatment and medication and time, not saving the world. In fact, things like that can triple the stress and guilt and pressure on a character, in no way would that help their mentality. Please take this seriously. If you want to make a character completely functional and happy all the time, go ahead, but don’t make them mentally ill. Don’t make your characters have disorders if you can’t handle that, or if you’re not going to follow through.
Things to include
Facts, facts, facts. Now, you don’t have to make your story a psychology textbook, but please try to slip in some facts—or at the very least some accuracy. Talk to someone you know (or someone online, places like Ask Reddit, Yahoo! Answers, and Quora are great to ask random people questions) and pose some inquiries. For example, “How do you react to things?” “What is your daily routine?” “What medication do you take?” “Do you have any accommodations?” As long as it isn’t too personal, many people would be happy to answer! I’ve helped tons of people who were writing about certain disorders myself. But don’t rely on television, that kind of representation is artificial, it’s dressed up. It is usually not very accurate.
Casual diversity. Yes, diversity includes mentally ill people! And when I say casually, I mean include more than one character coping with a disorder, there are thousands of people out there who have been diagnosed with something or another. Don’t make it a big deal. I’m talking about scenes where characters take medication without having it be a whole plot point. Scenes where characters talk about getting out of therapy or a panic attack they had one time. Scenes where they joke about something they’ve gone through regarding their illness, or even told another character not to bring something up because it triggers them. The thing is, these don’t have to be a huge deal, they don’t have to be a main part of a character’s personality or past. They can be as normal as lunch. In fact, that is exactly how you can do your part to normalize mental illness.
Mental illness everywhere. Again, thousands of people face mental illness every day, don’t shy away from it. Disorders have existed for hundreds of years, people used to think they were caused by deities. Work with that! Integrate mental illness in your historical works, that could be such an interesting plot point! Integrate mental illness in your sci-fi and fantasy works! There is such untapped potential in that, just because people are proven to want to avoid mental illness whenever they can. They pretend that it doesn’t exist because that’s easier than not. You don’t have to include mental illness in your story, of course not, but remember that you can.
What you need to know about mental disorders
Bipolar Disorder: Type 1 can include rapid mood swings, mania, depression, recklessness, habit of harming oneself. Type 2 can include less rapid mood swings, hypomania, and deeper depression, generally a less intense version of Type 1.
Some things you may not know: A lot of us are aware of the episode we’re in, we can tell if we’re acting manic/hypomanic or depressed but cannot change it without medication. Depressive episodes usually last longer than manic ones, but either episode can last upwards of a few months or years. Childhood trauma can cause this disorder, but it can also be genetic. People usually go to therapy and take mood stabilizers for this disorder. When we’re on medication, we often miss our manic episodes, as that is usually when we are most productive and confident and happy.
Histrionic Personality Disorder: This disorder can include a constant need for attention, usually intense and theatrical in conversation, is influenced and controlled easily, often overly attached to friendships and relationships.
Some things you may not know: People with this disorder are often made uncomfortable, feel alienated, and act uncaring when not the center of attention. These people are very dependent on relationships with other people, sometimes being so attached to someone that they think their relationship is closer than it actually is. They seem very charming in conversation in order to be liked. Sometimes this disorder can lead to someone being overly provocative and flirtatious. Self-esteem is almost solely based on the approval of others.
ADD/ADHD: This disorder is characterized by hyperactivity, restlessness, a low attention span, horrible memory, and impulsivity.
Some things you may not know: People with these disorders have alarmingly bad memory, which people without them can often (ironically) forget. People with these disorders can have crazy and random impulses that they act on for seemingly no reason. One time I threw my IPod in the ocean just because my brain said “do that”. We often fidget or can’t stay still for long, needing to keep moving. We have very very bad attention spans, our minds going to far off places that make it nearly impossible to focus on whatever is at hand. We get songs stuck very easily in our minds, and sometimes they can completely overwhelm our thoughts.
Borderline Personality Disorder: People with this disorder can experience emotional instability, feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, impulsivity, and impaired social relationships.
Some things you may not know: People with this disorder are often cripplingly afraid of being abandoned. This disorder is very easily misdiagnosed as Bipolar Disorder, and vice versa. A person’s self image and mood can be extremely unstable, to the point where they get easily confused and lost in their own emotions and thoughts. There is usually a pattern of unstable relationships, risky/self destructive behavior, and suicidal ideation.
PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is characterized by flashbacks, paranoia, heightened sensitivity or reaction, anxiety, and depressed mood.
Some things you may not know: Some people with PTSD don’t experience flashbacks, sometimes they are so traumatized that their brain makes them forget traumatic memories in order to defend itself. People with this disorder may experience mistrust, especially with people or things that remind them of their abuser (for example, I am extremely uncomfortable around adult men, including family members). These people also experience extreme guilt, especially if they were abused/manipulated by a person. PTSD doesn’t always come from war, it can come from any experience where violence or stress is threatened or apparent.
Depression: Characterized by suicidal thoughts or actions, negativity, loss of interest in all hobbies, self isolation, low self esteem, tiredness, and hopelessness.
Some things you may not know: Depressed people often feel like they are burdens and don’t deserve to be alive. People who cope with this disorder might also have lowered sex drive, and generally lose interest in everything. Nothing feels like enough when a person is depressed, including love and support. Depression can lead people to be very antisocial and too tired and out of body to converse with others.
Other disorders include: Eating disorders, anxiety disorders, OCD, Schizophrenia, psychopathy, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and more. Please try to think outside the box, include characters with obscure disorders in your stories. Everyone needs representation. DM me if you have questions about these disorders, need help, or need me to point you to good websites to do research.
Neurodiverse: A word used to describe the range of different mental illnesses, often used as a general term for mentally ill people or the mentally ill community.
Coping: I like to use the term “coping with” rather than “suffering from” when describing someone who has an illness, as it shows that you don’t have to suffer through a disorder, a person can cope with one perfectly fine. Coping is a term used to describe how someone deals with having a disorder.
Wellness: Synonym for health and mental health.
Chemical imbalance: The imbalance in one’s brain chemistry that often causes mental illness
Dissociation: When a person gets unattached to reality and has an almost out-of-body experience.
Mania: The state in which a person can feel extremely intense emotions like irritability, happiness, confidence, productivity, recklessness, and sometimes even invincibility.
Hypomania: A less intense version of mania, where a person will feel less reckless and unstable, and more productive and happy. Generally does not require hospitalization.
ADD: Attention deficit disorder
ADHD: Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
PTSD: Post traumatic stress disorder
OCD: Obsessive compulsive disorder
BPD: Borderline Personality Disorder
BD: Bipolar Disorder
Alright y’all, that’s all I have for today! I hope I helped you in some shape or form! Thank you for reading, accurately representing mental illness is so important, I could really go on and on. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, please don’t be afraid to DM me on any of my platforms, I’d love to help you with any questions or concerns you have! I have lots of experience, so even if I’m not an expert, I can give you my two cents. But even if you don’t ask me or someone else for help, do you research, take this subject seriously. It is important in so many ways.
Anyway, that was me, feel free to check me out on any of my platforms! I’ll see y’all later!
Writing Instagram: @annewritesthings
Critic/Review Instagram: @annes_reading_den