Mental Health Inclusion in Literature

by Rae Harrison

Mental health has always been a topic tread lightly around. It’s a subject that has such a wide range of struggles, challenges, difficulties. What we sometimes forget to include are the positive aspects that many of us learn to search for: acceptance, self-love, celebrating small joys, and much more. For a long time, mental illness has been a subject that automatically evokes a negative response. In stories like The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman or The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, the main characters are often mistreated because of their illness, or their mental state is downplayed by another character. It shows how, at the time, mental illness was viewed as something that made a character “crazy” or “unstable.” These stories are still important because they raise awareness of mental health and can show an audience what it’s like to live with such conditions. The more literature focuses on mental health and mental illnesses, the more we can create space for authors who have their own experiences to share. Lessening the negative stigma surrounding mental illnesses can encourage others to read, write, and create more surrounding this theme.

There is so much more to the topic of mental health than meets the eye. Many aspects of mental health are internal and very personal to each individual, so it can be hard to find out where and how to start writing about the topic. Since the topic has many different facets, there should be safe spaces for writers, or anyone interested, to create works of art or literature surrounding the topic. Unfortunately, many people have reservations about publishing work mainstream because of the unknowns. Will publishers want to take the risk? Does the work not cater to the general public? Will people understand? All of these doubts can feel scary and suffocating for those of us who want to write about our experiences and share it with the world. We have come very far with inclusivity, but some topics and groups of people are still underrepresented. Many organizations and groups are working to change this though. Michael Landsberg, the founder of #SickNotWeak, says, “No one chooses mental illness, it chooses us.” Landsberg started this foundation to bring awareness and to reduce the stigma around mental illnesses. Organizations like this are amazing for people who need a place to turn to, and also for people who aren’t familiar with the intricacies of mental health struggles. The Mental Health Writers’ Guild is another organization that showcases artists who talk directly about mental health and mental well-being. It’s a community for writers to share their work and read others’ work who may share some of their struggles. The website has many amazing posts from authors and bloggers — featuring poems, short stories, blog posts, etc. It’s so important to be inclusive because it creates a space for others to join. In an article on The Bookseller titled “Authors urge publishers to ‘give space’ to mental health,” Heloise Wood talks about the poet, MC Angel, who states how important it is to write about difficult times to help those who are struggling. She says, “It is so important to write about them because what about people who have had a similar life? I hope that there is someone who can pick up my book and say, ‘there is someone who has been through this too’.” As someone who deals with anxiety, depression, and OCD, I have used writing as an outlet for many years. I personally love to read about others who can share my feelings and shortcomings. It creates solidarity through the knowledge that there’s someone out there who gets you, who knows in some way what you’re going through or dealing with. Writing your experiences and turning your thoughts, whether positive or negative, into works of art or literature can be very therapeutic. With more and more people open to this topic, it can broaden the scope of possibilities for those who experience mental health challenges, such as how to express themselves and create from their own experiences. It opens up more discussions surrounding this topic, therefore creating more space for writers and authors to showcase their work. 

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