*pokes in* So yeah, I’ve been fascinated with mental illness and health and all the facets of it for a while, so this discussion is pretty neat. I’ve read the thoughts on depression etc., and I have been diagnosed with a low grade depression myself (I’m not on medication or anything for it, though I got close once). If anyone wants to know about my experience I’d be willing to share, but I don’t feel like typing up thoughts to the existing conversation yet, as it seems everyone has pretty well covered that conversation. 😛 But about the initial questions:
Do you feel like mental disorders is something Christian writers have done well with in writing? Nope. But then I don’t believe most writers do very well with it, even in secular fiction. It’s something that irritates me to no end, and I really hope we move toward a better portrayal of mental illness in fiction in the future. It would be great if Christian writers could lead the way for that.
Or have we done poorly? How could we improve? In general there’s a lack of well researched portrayals of things. Writers seem to take the common idea of what a certain mental illness is (which in itself is usually poorly founded and highly stereotyped), and base their entire story or character around an aggrandized idea of what mental illness looks like, without taking the time to really research and find whether or not that’s actually the case. There has also recently (in popular culture, I haven’t read enough Christian fiction with mental illness to be able to make a judgement on that) has been a trend of romanticizing certain specific disorders, making them actually look vogue to have, rather than extremely harmful and potentially devastating. That needs to stop. And, in Christian fiction in particular, there can be the idea that “once you become a Christian, it all becomes better.” (The secular alternative to this is once you find your soulmate, which in some ways is even worse.) But, while finding Jesus may help, and I know some people have experienced spontaneous remission after finding Christ, the reality is most of the time this isn’t entirely the case, and portraying it that way can hurt those who didn’t have that experience, and who still may struggle with whatever their prognosis is. It doesn’t make their salvation any less real, and giving the impression that it might is dangerous and hurtful.
What would you like to see more of in christian fiction that relates to mental illnesses and disorders? Basically just doing better what I pointed out above. I can’t honestly think of many Christian fiction books I’ve read that even touch on mental illness, so I would likely need to read more of the genre before forming stronger specific conclusions on anything.
What is your personal experience with mental illnesses? If you have a mental disorder/illness have you read “christian” books that had characters (with mental illnesses) that you could relate to? I’ve had depression, likely for most of high school, but I wasn’t actually diagnosed until I was 20. I also have a family history, my mother has struggled with it all her life, and my brother is starting to experience some symptoms as well. I don’t believe I’ve actually ever read any “christian” books that deal with depression, at least not that I remember. And without that specification, I haven’t read any fiction in general that I found myself relating too very much.
In your stories or WIPs, do you have characters with mental illnesses/disorders? What has helped you write them realistically? In my WIPs I have characters with PTSD, borderline pyromania, mild kleptomania, severe depression, and anti-social personality disorder. (Note, I don’t actually give most of these characters the actual label, as only one of them would actually have been diagnosed, the rest would not have been, and I don’t agree with tossing around labels just because they seem to fit.) In future stories I would like to work on, in addition to a few of the previously mentioned conditions, I could have characters with DID, severe anxiety, schizophrenia, aspergers (which I’m not sure would fall under the classification of “mental illness” as someone previously mentioned with autism, but it is something), OCD, and Cotard’s syndrome. I’m not entirely sure I write them well, at least not in these my first drafts of things, but I do believe my commitment to an accurate portrayal and willingness to do as much research as it takes, will help me ensure they’re done passably by the time I’m ready to send these stories out into the world.
One thing I have learned through researching so far, is the power of first hand accounts. With the internet at our fingertips it is very easy to find internet forums and boards of people, discussing what it is like to live with their mental illness, and more and more people are becoming willing to talk about it. Using these resources, not only medical texts but actual, firsthand people living with conditions every day, can be highly instrumental in writing mental illnesses that are both well researched, and much more believable.