Making it personal: Fiction takes on mental health

By Emma Kohlmayer

Mental health and the diverse complications it can have on an individual’s life can be communicated through media which can appear more intimate and personal, such as through music, art or books and literature.

People suffering from conditions such as bipolar, depression, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, PTSD, eating disorders and various personality disorders are often stereotyped and stigmatised based upon the idea that society isn’t comfortable with these issues, and the very real conditions affecting millions, with many afraid to speak out because of this; due an increased risk of being deemed dangerous, incapable or weird, even going as far as to believe such conditions are contagious.

In an attempt to deconstruct the stigma that surrounds mental health, various campaigns have been distributed to the general population through widespread media. Examples of this are seen in the mental health awareness day “RUOK Day”, which aims to discontinue the taboo that surrounds speaking out about generalised mental health.

There has been a rise in Australians seeking treatment for mental health since 2020 and more than 61 per cent of Australians reported that their everyday life benefits from having at least one strategy that assists with managing their mental health. These statistics demonstrate that campaigns like this are having a positive impact on society and breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health.

However, mental health is becoming a recurring theme throughout popular novel titles. An author’s skilled use of techniques and literary devices allows for audiences to develop more personal and intimate connection to mental health as they tell a fictional story.

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow became incredibly popular through social media, because it captures the essence of a young girl and her struggles with mental health in a confronting and honest way. Glasgow’s novel is an intense representation of Charlie, a 17-year-old whose only way to cope with the fragility of her life and toxic environment is to self-harm.

It follows her extensive recovery path and the challenges she faces as she rebuilds her life after leaving a rehabilitation centre. While the novel covers an extreme case of homelessness, abusive relationships and a severe mental health condition resulting in destructive behaviour, Girl in Pieces is written in a fragmented and truncated structure, making it seem quite frantic.

This structure helps convey the message that Glasgow is capturing throughout her novel. It shows the uncertainty and chaos that fills both Charlie’s life and brain. The uncensored nature of Girl in Pieces threatens to challenge society’s view and stigmatisation surrounding mental health.

Jenifer Niven’s incredibly successful novel All the Bright Places highlights life, death and a struggle to survive. Whilst the book can come across as romantic and easy to read. It covers topics such as suicide in a very real and confronting manner.

Towards the end of the novel Finch disappears and after forming a strong personal connection Violet is forced to confront the harsh reality that plays out in front of her. All the Bright Places conveys the true strain and impacts mental health can have on relationships in both a positive and negative way, as it brought the two protagonists together, but also ultimately leads to their demise.

Even though campaigns around the nation have helped ease the stigma, there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding these illnesses. Books have had a major rise in popularity through social media platforms over the past few years with the two books detailed above growing expansively among the platforms.

Literature has the power to convey mental health in a more intimate manner than widespread campaigns due to literary techniques which allow readers to become invested and more connected to the illness through characters and relatable settings rather than just learning the facts, statistics, signs and memorising phone numbers.

If this article has raised concerns for you or anyone you know please do not remain silent, the links and phone numbers for Lifeline and other mental health organisations who can help individuals in need are listed below.

Lifeline: 13 11 14                                                                                

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Head Space

Feature image: Fiction is joining fact in taking on the stigma of mental health. Picture: Kamil Porembiński/CC/flickr

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