Beyond the Blurb | Why Mental Illness Rep in Books Is Needed

Morning, readers!

For the last seven months, I have struggled with my mental illnesses. And even though next week, my Mom will complete her final chemo treatment, I feel the utter power my illnesses have over me. And it doesn’t matter if I have coping mechanisms, which aren’t working anymore, if I’ve fought them before and beat them, or if I talk with friends. They’re still here.

But the only solace I’ve found is in literature. It always has been even if a reading slump finds me. Mental illness and health are prominent on my blog, and I want readers to find a safe place here. Although I’ve talked a lot about each topic, I haven’t shown why the proper mental illness rep in books is not only needed but desperately wanted from readers. Kal from Reader Voracious inspired my next discussion post, which I’ll examine why this rep is important. Let’s get to it.

Mental Illness Is Prevalent Worldwide

Mental illness has affected more people than you think. Take a look at these statistics according to the Canadian Mental Health Association:

  • One in five Canadians will encounter a mental health issue
  • 24% of all deaths among 15-24-year-olds and 16% among 25-44-year-olds are caused by suicide
  • Almost half of those suffering from depression or anxiety have not sought out professional help
  • Stigma and discrimination not only affect diagnosis and treatment but also prevent people to find acceptance in their lives

Mental illness seems to be progressing in all countries. We cannot stop ignoring it.


More Readers Hope to Find Characters Who Are like Them

Whether the book is in the children’s, young adult, new adult, or adult category, readers need to see themselves in characters. Seeing another person, even fictional, allows them to understand that they’re not alone, they aren’t suffering by themselves while others are thriving, and they’re not the cause for their illness.

Finding that lifeline can and does save lives. It has saved me countless times. You don’t know when you’ll find the right novel that will bring you off that ledge.


It Provides an Outlet for Readers Who Can’t Turn to Others

Like I’ve stated before, books have provided me comfort in my difficult times. My illnesses typically prevent me from talking about what I’m going through. And my agoraphobia even forces me not to look for professional help, even if my mind screams at me that I need it.

So literature becomes a support system for people who cannot seek the support they need. It morphs into a psychiatrist, psychotherapist or counsellor. Many people cannot afford professional treatment. So they find something else.


It Erodes the Stigma Many Readers Face

Stigma is one of the killers for people who deal with mental illness. It destroys people’s strength, erases feelings and admissions, and silences voices. If readers see more mental health rep in novels, then they may reach out to family members, trusted friends, or their doctor who can help.


When Represented Correctly, It Creates a Positive Reading Experience

When authors correctly represent mental illness in their writing, the experience won’t negatively affect readers. Sometimes, they are under extreme distress and don’t need a book to throw their mental illness in their face. They’re fighting their mind; they don’t need to battle fiction.


It Highlights Other Mental Illnesses That Aren’t Often Talked About

Depression and anxiety are usually used in literature. But I don’t always see PTSD, agoraphobia, bipolar, or schizophrenia. Society has addressed the first two illnesses, but I haven’t seen a spotlight on the others. There is more than just depression or anxiety. And like myself, many people suffer from more than one illness. We need to shine a light on other illnesses that are typically forgotten.


What do you think books addressing mental illness? Do you think we readers need more proper representation? How does that representation affect you?

6 thoughts on “Beyond the Blurb | Why Mental Illness Rep in Books Is Needed

  1. Siobhan you’ve really hit the nail on the head with this post. I love it so much!! Good mental health rep is so important for those with mental health issues, so they can identify with characters, but also for those without, so they can understand some of what others deal with on a day to day basis.


  2. I personally don’t suffer from any mental illnesses but I think you said it perfectly. Good mental rep is so important for those who do suffer and it’s important for them to see themselves represented and to know they’re not alone. I know you mentioned how you don’t see a therapist because your agoraphobia prevents you from going. I was curious if you thought about doing it through Skype or FaceTime. I follow someone on YouTube who talks to her therapist that way. Sorry if I’ve overstepped!!


  3. I absolutely 100000% agree with you that there needs to be more mental illness representation in books! There has been a very obvious movement to publish more books that break down mental health stigma, but we’re a long way away from getting people to talk about it as much as it should be – like you say, it’s such a prevalent illness and so many people suffer from it and feel like they have nowhere and no-one to turn to. I’m glad you’ve been able to find solace in books with good mental health representation and I hope a day will come when it’ll be so much easier to do that!


  4. Siobhan, this is such a great post!

    I feel like mental illnesses are still such a tough thing in fiction, because there’s still so much bad rep. Particularly, I hate how therapy and medication, and just treatment of mental illnesses in general, is portrayed in media, especially YA media. Young adults suffering from mental illnesses don’t need another piece of media telling them therapists and meds are bad!! They need positive representation of these things so that they’ll be more willing to seek them out!


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