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Peoms Fanfics Journals by MellieMasterPrime

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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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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. 
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. :(
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!
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
RiseandBe Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
This is an awesome guide. Really nice work!
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks honey! :heart:
RiseandBe Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Sure thing! :heart:
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
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome! I'm glad you find it useful. :heart:
Malco735 Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I do indeed :)
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