Showing posts with label panic attack. Show all posts
Showing posts with label panic attack. Show all posts

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Difference Between Romanticized Mental Illness and Romance with Mental Illness | YA Talk



Today I've brought Leah from While Reading and Walking on the blog to talk a bit about mental illness romanticization. Enjoy!

As writers, readers, and reviewers, there is a lot of responsibility on our shoulders when it comes to the representation of mental illness. 

Bad representations of mental illness can do real damage. Teens especially in the midst of anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and more, can be influenced by what they read in books that they believe are faithful representations of what mental illness looks like—and what healing can look like.

I’ll be talking specifically about the relationship between mental illness and romance in fiction. romanticizing mental illness can mean a lot of things. Here, I’m talking about the common trope where someone has a mental illness and then falls in love. 

I am a novelist and book blogger who has depression and anxiety. There is obviously a range of experiences when it comes to these issues, and there are many more forms of mental illness that I can’t personally speak to. I am a cis white woman who has a privileged life in many respects, and others who do not have those privileges might have a different experience.

The Example

You have a character. Let’s call her Leia. She has anxiety and is susceptible to panic attacks. She often obsesses all day about small things. Her anxiety can arise from real-life issues or from nothing at all. 

She meets a girl. That girl is cute and funny and makes her laugh. What next?

  • The Right Path:
There is a lot of truth to the idea that anxiety and depression are easier to get through when you have someone by your side who will make a conscious effort to support you, listen to you, and understand what you’re going through. 

If every time you have a panic attack, there is someone on the end of the phone who is ready at all times to talk to you and talk you through that attack, then anxiety becomes just that little bit less scary to face. The world gets a little more secure when you have someone you can depend on, who can ground you and remind you that they aren’t going anywhere. That's absolutely okay to reflect in your writing.

  • The Wrong Path:
The problem is that many novels seem to imply that mental illness can be fixed and healed by being in love. That if Leia just finds this girl, her anxiety will melt away and never come back. She’ll never have another panic attack. These YA novels make it sound like love makes everything sunshine and rainbows, and mental illness flees from relationships like opposite ends of a magnet.

But having someone in your life you love doesn’t mean that your mental illness goes away. Saying it does implies that anxiety and depression are not real illnesses. But they are. Mental illness is physical, and chemical, and while it can be triggered by things in the outside world—for example, the death of a loved one or a break-up can lead to depression if you’re susceptible—it’s still a genuine illness. This is the same reason why Leia could be the sunshine optimism of her friend group, have an amazing job, pets, supportive family, and a new beautiful girlfriend and still have panic attacks. 

The Impact

When a person with mental illness reads a novel that implies that their conditions would melt away if only they had someone who loved them, it can have serious implications on their psyche and emotions. 


They can think, 'I have a boyfriend. I'm in love. Am I not in love? Or is something just wrong me?' or they can get into a headset where they believe that chasing love is the only way they'll ever get better. Teaching young people that the right way to heal is to fall in love and then things will get better ignores the real causes of mental illness, and can make people think that things won’t get better after all. 

Like I said: A person who makes you laugh can help to make a day with depression less awful. A person who grounds you can remind you that you have a handle on things in the midst of your panic attack. A person who makes you laugh might be able to get you out of the house on a day when you can’t leave your bed. 

  • But having Leia fall in love and then her panic attacks never return sends the message that loneliness is what causes mental illness. 
  • It implies that you need a savior to get better, and that you have no control over your own healing. 
  • It implies that mental illness is a neatly solved problem if you would just fall in love.

So what do I do? 

Write well.
Call out novels that clearly romanticize mental illness.
Be reasonable, but be vigilant too.

A romance in which the character has mental illness is not “romanticizing mental illness,” but it is a huge problem in the book community where we conflate the classical tale of being lost and completing your life with the addition of another person who balances you (classic love story) with the idea that a mental illness can be 100% healed if you would just find your soulmate.



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