I don’t want to stop my joyful rambling about books and I won’t. But there are other things I need and want to talk about.
1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class (1).
Between 1 in every 12 and 1 in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm (2).
There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68% (3).
More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time (4).
A lot of us here in the blogosphere call for more diversity in YA fiction, tired of the unnaturally beautiful white girl who has everything together. And we have come so far. In my time I’m seen huge twitter conversations and hundreds of blog posts from bloggers and authors alike saying what they want to see and what changes they’re going to make. And we’re getting there, slowly but surely we as readers are starting to see our own selves, messy and imperfect, refelected back at us from the books we are reading.
But why is it important to talk about mental health?
Because mental health issues so often begin in childhood and when we are young adults. Because we need to remove the stigma and the fear surrounding mental health, so that those young people aren’t afraid to speak out about their problems.
We need to educate the ignorant. To teach people, young or old, that anyone can face a mental health crisis, at any age. To show people, through stories, that it’s not just ‘a phase’ or puberty, that depression, anxiety, eating disorders, psychosis and all the rest do not discriminate.
Young people in a survey conducted by time to change reported stigma coming from those around them: 70% had had negative reactions from friends, over half (57%) from parents and 45% from boyfriends and girlfriends.
The professionals that young people come into contact with were also reported as a source of stigma and discrimination: 40% said that they had experienced negative reactions from teachers and 47% from doctors and other medical professionals.
Our attitudes and beliefs are largely formed when we are young and are influenced by a ton of factors; what we are taught in school, by family members and books we read to name a few. That’s not to say we can’t change our beliefs as we grow, because we constantly do. However if the kids in your class make jokes about ‘crazy’ people or the news you see blames atrocities on a persons mental health and you never see positive portrayals of ordinary people with mental health issues then how are you supposed to understand what you or someone else is going through and to react in a healthy, positive way?
It’s important to represent real people in literature.
…and in all media. Showing that women can be powerful and strong; that men can show their emotions without being ‘weak’ and that people with mental health problems are just ordinary people who need our compassion not our ignorance. (I could go on…)
Seeing ourselves and honest representations in the media help people feel accepted and give them back that sense of I’m normal. This gives them back much needed confidence to open conversations and seek help.
I asked some friends why they think it’s important and this is what they said;
Characters can sometimesi be more relatable than real humans, I think its a starting point for the discussion for mental health –Hannah
“I just think it’s another good way to get people talking about mental health. To have realistic representations in creative works helps to de-stigmatise mental illnesses. Also, for me, it was a way of feeling like I wasn’t alone – Girl, Interrupted, although a memoir, was a very powerful read for me, it was upsetting for me as I’d been diagnosed with BPD, but it resonated with me deeply.” –Sophie
I think it’s important if done in a way that isn’t likely to add to the stigma. I’ve just read the gift and sisters both by louise jenson. In both books the characters suffer from anxiety, and it often describes their panic attacks. To me (as a severe sufferer) this is a good thing, as it might help people understand what happens to someone having an attack.
However I also think mental health in books can be bad, as it’s often used as a reason why a character is the way they are, in a bad way. In that case I think it adds to the stigma that anyone who suffers from mental illness are a crazed axe welding maniac. I understand it’s all to make a good story and it won’t necessarily be at the forefront of a readers mind, but I can’t help thinking that it might put that thought about mental illness into someone’s sub conscious. –Laura Caunce
What books are already out there?
Buzzfeed did a post on the 29 Best YA Books About Mental Health.
I’m going to make it my mission to pay abit more attention to wether books are portraying mental health issues and if they are, are they doing it well?
Let me know your thoughts and please do throw any recommendations my way (good or bad examples!) xxx