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August 3, 2013
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When incorporating mental illness into a piece of literature, the most important tool you need to use is research. This is true whether you want the mental illness to play a large part OR a small one, and it is true whether you know someone with mental illness or not. In fact, it's even true if you have the illness yourself, because no two people are the same, and your character may display different facets to you due to contributing factors like experience and personality.

That said, research is not the first thing you should do, because before you get stuck into that research, you need to look at WHY you want to include mental illness in your literature. If you think it would be cool or fun, you might want to rethink it unless you're prepared to put in a lot of work because living with mental illness is not either of those things (generally) and what you're doing for a bit of fun has the potential to negatively impact someone else's life in a big way because stigma & misrepresentation cause huge difficulties in the lives of people with mental illness. No matter what your reason is, you're in for a lot of work because, as I mentioned earlier, research is crucial when it comes to including realistic mental illness in your work.

So. Research. Read professional articles on mental illness in general and the specific disorder(s) you are thinking of using, and read personal articles on those as well. Talk to people with mental illness, listen to their stories and really hear their experiences. Find out what treatment options are appropriate ad whether they're offered in your setting (ie, if you're setting something in Gavle [Sweden], research what treatment options are available in Gavle, not what treatment options are available in YOUR location. Research common, possible and impossible illness combinations. Chances are if your character has Borderline Personality Disorder, she has at least one other diagnosis as well; on the other hand your Australian character with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is stretching the bounds of believability.

Here are five key things you need to understand about mental illness. Some will have been mentioned previously, but they're getting reiterated because they really are important.

1. Mental illnesses are not "one size fits all" - not every person who has compulsions to wash their hands regularly has OCD, and not every person with OCD has regular compulsions to wash their hands regularly. Stereotypes might give you something to work from, but they are not always accurate portrayals of life with mental illness.

2. People who live with mental illness are not stupid. This one's really important, guys. If you want to include a character with low IQ, that's fine, but please think really hard before making it a character who also has an unconnected mental illness.

3. Mental illnesses born from traumatic experiences are not colourful and cute. People who have them do not tend to announce their disorder to complete strangers as a cheerful, pretty thing - in fact, they generally will not announce them to total strangers at all. Turning mental illness into a joke is incredibly risky, and doing it badly is dangerous for people who live with those conditions.

4. People who live with mental illness are not defined by their disorder(s). There are so many more aspects to us than just what we have been diagnosed with, and when you define your characters by their disorder, you are missing out on so much more character development and believability.

5. Mental illness does not simply disappear for no reason. Treatment may 'cure' certain types of mental illness, but others do not have a cure. Know what works and doesn't work for the disorder(s) in question and make sure the illness is not cured by love, unlikely treatment options or the death of a figure at the heart of the character's trauma. It really doesn't work that way.

Essentially, treat your character like a person and not a disorder; people are complex, varied creatures and that needs to be shown in your writing or your mentally ill character will come across as a caricature or worse.
Although I know there are certainly guides out there in dA for writing specific mental illness - =doughboycafe's brilliant guide for writing combat-related mental illness (thumb'd below) comes to mind - I wanted to write my own little article on some really key points for addressing any mental illness in literature.

And please check out the literature in the thumbs below as they are other guides on the same/related topics:
A Guide to Writing Combat-Related Mental IllnessComing Back from Combat: A Writer’s Guide to Combat Related Psychological Illness in Fiction
The aim of this guide is simple: plenty of people want to write about war, to explore it, to understand it and understand soldiers they know who are in it or have come from it. But, often times putting the aftermath, the pain, and the psychological impact war has on the mind into words is difficult to do well.
This guide exists to help fiction writers accurately portray psychological disorders in their work, because the people who suffer from these disorders and their loved ones deserve honesty and do not deserve to be misrepresented. The guide is here to help writers understand how these disorders come about, how they are treated, and how to think critically about how they might impact the person who has them.
I. Introduction
1. A disclaimer, and polemics.
2. Why are you writing a psychological illness into your story?
3. Terms you should be familiar with for this


Please do let me know if there is anything I've missed, need to clarify or otherwise modify.
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:iconfadingreverie:
fadingreverie Featured By Owner Oct 30, 2013  Student Writer
Thank you for writing this. I can think of some *published* titles that completely miss the points you made. 
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you! I'm glad you thought it was worth it.

I agree that there are some published works that miss the points. It's sad and frustrating, and feeds stigma in a horrible way. :(
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:iconchipchinka:
Chipchinka Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2013   Writer
You cover nice points and as I come from the area of writing science fiction, all of what you write here is exactly the kind of thing that really does need to be put out there.  Research is key, especially when dealing with the more complicated issues of mental illness (or any other condition a character may find him/herself in).  Also, it made me think of the brilliant novel, Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem.  That's a wonderful tour-de-force, as is Samuel R. Delany's novel Dhalgren which focuses more on dyslexia and possible schizophrenia (though nothing is ever spelled out) but reading that novel makes the reader actually experience reality from a dyslexic POV.  I just thought I'd mention that as I really enjoyed this guide.  Well done!
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Sep 22, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you very much! I might have to check out those books you mentioned, too. :D
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:iconriseandbe:
RiseandBe Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
This is an awesome guide. Really nice work!
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks honey! :heart:
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:iconriseandbe:
RiseandBe Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Sure thing! :heart:
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:iconmalco735:
Malco735 Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
A very important point to make, even vital for people such as myself and many others that I know personally. Thank you :D
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome! I'm glad you find it useful. :heart:
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:iconmalco735:
Malco735 Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I do indeed :)
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:iconbrokentales:
BrokenTales Featured By Owner Aug 12, 2013   Writer
Congratulations! :party::happybounce: You've been featured in our Weekly Round-up! :clap:

Thank you for sharing with the group :love:

:iconwritersink:
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh, how wonderful! Thank you so much! :)
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:iconmrwootton:
MrWootton Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2013  Professional Writer
Good advice. I support this deviation.
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you very much! :heart:
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:iconebonsong:
Ebonsong Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2013
Just. Thank you. :hug:
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
No, thank you. :huggle:
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:iconvespera:
vespera Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
:thumbsup:
Reply
:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:highfive:

(Thank you!)
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:iconhaphazardmelody:
haphazardmelody Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
This is fantastic. And so important. Thank you for writing it.
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you. :heart: I hope it's useful to people!
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:iconfuzzyhoser:
FuzzyHoser Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
:heart: This was necessary.
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you, I felt the same way! :heart:
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:iconfuzzyhoser:
FuzzyHoser Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
:heart::hug:
Reply
:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:huggle:
Reply
:iconscatteredwords:
scatteredwords Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
It's unfortunate that this needed to be written at all. But you did so wonderfully. Thank you.
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Aw, thank you. I'm glad you felt it was well written! :heart:
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:icondays-be-strange:
days-be-strange Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013
Thanks for writing this :) (Smile)
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
You're very welcome! Thank you for faving it. I'm glad you liked it/hope you find it useful. :heart:
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:icondays-be-strange:
days-be-strange Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013
I did. I know someone with mental illness, and although I should know better I think seeing it written down as clearly as you did made it easier to understand. Hug
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:huggle:

That's okay, even those of us *with* MI sometimes need to be reminded -- I know I do! I'm glad it has helped you. :)
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:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Student Writer

This is just so much yes.

 

Thank you for writing this.

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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:heart: Thank you so much. I hope it helps people, and I'm glad you approve of it!
(It's hard to word that without sounding weird. :p)
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:icondrippingwords:
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Student Writer
You're welcome! :heart: And no worries.
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:love:
Reply
:icongreenleo94:
greenleo94 Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
You are awesome! :D
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Aww, thank you! :blush:

I'm glad you found the guide useful/good/whatever you liked about it! Hah. :)

:iconheartglompplz:
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:icongreenleo94:
greenleo94 Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I had a mental illness so I found this refreshing.

Welcome. :hug:
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:huggle:
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:iconladybrookecelebwen:
LadyBrookeCelebwen Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:clap:

I didn't see anything that needed to be charified. (Though, hopefully nobody takes "research the other ways it can present" to mean "jump on people who write it with one form". :lol:)
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you! :heart:

Oh gosh, I hope not too, that certainly wasn't the intention!
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:iconladybrookecelebwen:
LadyBrookeCelebwen Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome!

Well, anyone that would do so was probably going to do it anyways. Can't control other people....
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Yes, that's true!

(And why would you want to, I mean, it takes all my energy to control ME :p)
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:iconladybrookecelebwen:
LadyBrookeCelebwen Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
:D

(Same! I don't have the energy to control random people, though I still end up speaking up at times...)
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
*nodnod*

I think it's okay to speak up sometimes, it's important to sometimes! :)
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:iconladybrookecelebwen:
LadyBrookeCelebwen Featured By Owner Aug 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
It is important to speak up sometimes! :D It just also ends badly occasionally.
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Yes, that's definitely true!
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:iconwriteacrossme:
writeacrossme Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2013  Student Writer
This is really well written and has some great points. People forget that even if you yourself have a mental illness or if someone around you has it, that it's not all going to be the same. Especially with things like schizophrenia, where there are many different forms of it and some pretty misleading stereotypes. It's really hard to write a character with a mental illness but I'm glad you could make this. Helps writers A LOT.
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you very much!

I'm glad you find it useful, hopefully others will too. :heart:
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:iconralfmaximus:
RalfMaximus Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
The best treatment, hands down, of tourettes in a novel I've ever seen: Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem.

The protagonist suffers from the disorder, and manages to be functional and (dare I say) superhuman. Sometimes an 'illness' is a strength.

It's also screamingly funny in parts and heart-wrenchingly sad in equal parts. An amazing, transformative work.
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:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh, it's certainly a strength sometimes, but I think when writing mental illness, it's really important to bear in mind that before it gets to that strength, you're wading through a buttload of poo; and that while it's possible to be functional with a mental illness, or not functional with one, you need to be aware of how REAL people with it will be affected by what you write.

I'm not saying people shouldn't include mental illness in literature that's funny, or that it should be all doom and gloom - it's not and that's just as dangerous as writing all sunshine, imo - but it's important to bear in mind how it's affecting the view of/the lives of people who really do have that illness. Of course, when written well, it's possible for a book with a character who lives with a mental illness to be both hilarious and heartbreaking without feeding stigma and misinformation. ;)
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