[NoNo] Writing Mental Health Topics (Guest Post ft. Anna Pearl)

Hey warriors! Welcome or welcome back to The Novelist’s November! We’re kicking off this week with a guest post by one of my best friends on a topic many of us have thought about: Should we write mental health topics? And how should we do it?

Let’s dive in!

Writing is always a tough thing, but some things make it an even harder mountain to climb. When you feel like you’re dragging yourself through each chapter, it can make you wonder, “Why am I even doing this?” Adding mental health topics into your writing can be one of the hard things you may find yourself struggling with.

We insert mental health into our writing for many reasons: To relate to others, to address problems we see, to process what we’re going through, or even to add an extra dynamic to a piece of writing. And these are all great! But we have to be careful about how we do it; otherwise, we might address the issue incorrectly.

Whether you’re a fiction writer or a non-fiction writer, this issue is important to you. Why? Because even in fiction, the reader needs to relate to what you’re addressing. If you’re talking about anxiety and someone with anxiety can’t connect the story with their lives, then how are they going to sympathize with the character?

How can you get people to sympathize with your characters? How are you supposed to be authentic and realistic about your mental health portrayal?

Unfortunately, you have to do research, just like with everything else. But this kind of research, depending on what kind of person you are, might be a bit fun.

What I like to do is find a friend who doesn’t mind talking with me about what it’s like to have anxiety, to have depression, or even just to be normal. And then I compare those experiences to other experiences I’ve heard of people adding. The results I’ve gotten have been eye-opening. The key to this approach is to ask your questions respectfully and gently. After all, they’re doing this to help you.

Of course, then there’s the not-so-fun research—the stuff where you actually have to go on Google or whatever web browser you use and look stuff up. The details you need aren’t going to be things that your friend may know to tell you about. Sure, they can tell you what a panic attack is like, but can they tell you what someone else might experience in a panic attack? No. You need a variety of resources and a variety of experiences because no person is going to be exactly like your friend. And no person is going to have the words for everything about their condition. One person might know how to explain their anxiety; another might know how to explain depression; another still might know how to explain their dissociation and why they do it. None of these people can do all three, and maybe someone out there can, but the point is, you need an array of sources.

Researching is, in my opinion, the most important work you can do as a writer. Some people would say it’s the writing, but you can’t portray things unless you’ve learned how they work, whether through your own experience or through online research.

Once you do have the research, though, you can put together a piece that is really meaningful. Your character can defy the odds stacked against them, surpass challenges, and learn who they are just like in normal situations like you may see, but they’re special in their own way.

One important thing to keep in mind, though, is that addressing mental health topics isn’t for everyone. Some of us who go through mental health struggles aren’t going to be able to talk about those in writing in a healthy way, and that’s okay! Someone who doesn’t struggle with mental health issues might want to process some things that have happened to a friend, or they want an outlet to learn through, so they may write a story about a mental health topic. Others might want to reflect on their own mental health journey, so they’ll write something similar to a memoir. Or perhaps they’ll write a poem to encapsulate the feelings that were provoked in them when they heard about someone going through such a hard time.

In the end, the moral of the story is: You have to figure out what’s right for you.

Let’s compare some pros and cons of writing with mental health issues, starting with the pros!

  • You might make a difference in someone’s life–whether big or small
  • You might bring clarity to a struggling person!
  • You can work through your own mental health journey
  • You can illustrate your knowledge of mental health topics via a character

There are just as many cons, however, excluding the ones not mentioned, which may hold more weight than the pros. Again, it all depends on who you are and how determined you are to embark on such a hard and grueling journey.

  • You might offend someone who doesn’t relate to your characters but has the condition you were trying to portray
  • You might convey it in a way that seems to just “spice up the story,” not actually work through the issue
  • You may portray it wrong entirely!
  • You may touch on a controversial issue within the sub-community of a certain mental health topic

In the end, it all depends on why you want to add mental health conditions to your writing. Do you want to “spice it up”? Or do you want to genuinely connect and work through issues that real-life people deal with? If your answer is the former, I’d recommend you think through things a bit more. Mental health issues are a serious thing that people struggle through each and every day. Anxiety, depression, learning disabilities, confusion, “mirages” such as delusions and hallucinations… We may not know who to trust, and sometimes, we turn to books about people like us to learn and feel like we aren’t alone. Are you ready to be that person we try to trust?

We need ready people who will support mental health writing, but we need you to portray it well. We need to be able to trust you to understand us. Can you dedicate that time and energy to learning who we are?

I want to note something else that’s really important, too. Mental health writing can be so powerful when done correctly. It can literally change people’s lives and alter the way they view certain struggles. It can give people hope when they thought there was none left.

The key is to write with intentionality and forethought. Don’t go into things haphazardly, assuming that you can do it. Try your best, put your all into it, and try to honor those who struggle with what you’re portraying.

Most of all, be compassionate; mental health warriors are people just like you.

Anna Pearl is a teen writer who struggles with a couple different mental health conditions. She loves frogs, writing, and helping others.

That really helped me a lot! I hope it helped you, too! As for this week’s schedule, here you go!

  • Writing Mental Health Topics (Guest Post by Anna Pearl)
  • Avoiding Burn Out and Writing Consistently
  • NaNoWriMo Playlist #1
  • Avoiding Writers Block
  • Character Tips with Gary D. Schmidt
  • Weekly Check-In #1
  • Keeping Commitments During NaNoWriMo

If you missed last week, here’s where you can find all of those posts! If you want to keep up, make sure to follow!

I also have some news! Towards the end of the month, I’ll be answering your writing questions. If you have a question you want answered, make sure to comment below and tell me what it is. There’s no limit to how many you can ask, just what you can come up with!

What did you learn from this? What mental health topics are you including in your book? Let us know in the comments!


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