Mental Illness/Disorders In Christian Fiction

Forums Fiction General Writing Discussions Mental Illness/Disorders In Christian Fiction

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  • #96207
    Eden Anderson
    @eden-anderson

    Hey all, hope your having an amazing day!

    So…I’ve been thinking a lot about mental illnesses and disorders recently and was wondering if anybody had posted a thread on here about such things. I couldn’t find any. (If there is one, please do share. 😉)

    I have multiple reasons for starting this thread. For one, I think it would be good/helpful to start a discussion on here about mental illness in christian fiction. But also because I’m looking for good resources on mental health, whether that be blogs, or articles, or books. I feel like I know very little about mental illness/disorders and am looking to educate myself, for personal reasons and because I am writing about characters with mental disorders.

    Merriam-Webster defines mental illnesses (or mental disorders) as:

    any of a broad range of medical conditions (such as major depression, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, or panic disorder) that are marked primarily by sufficient disorganization of personality, mind, or emotions to impair normal psychological functioning and cause marked distress or disability and that are typically associated with a disruption in normal thinking, feeling, mood, behavior, interpersonal interactions, or daily functioning source

    I understand that this can be a very tough/painful topic and so if you don’t feel comfortable with sharing, that’s okay. And if you have dealt with mental disorders yourself and you feel like something said on this thread was disrespectful or unhelpful, please say something. I don’t want this to turn into something damaging.

    And to everybody who will be commenting please speak with grace and respect. If you have no clue what your talking about please make sure you clarify that and don’t just throw opinions out there like it’s the truth. Thank you! ❤️

    So to get the discussion flowing:

    Do you feel like mental disorders is something Christian writers have done well with in writing? Or have we done poorly? How could we improve? What would you like to see more of in christian fiction that relates to mental illnesses and disorders? 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?

    In your stories or WIPs, do you have characters with mental illnesses/disorders? What has helped you write them realistically?

    And if you know of any resources concerning mental health, please do share!! I’ll give you a…virtual pizza. (And if I’m feeling really generous maybe I’ll throw in a hedge-hug or two. 😜)

     


    @r-m-archer
    @evelyn @bama-rose @cassandraia @ericawordsmith (don’t know if you guys are actually interested in this, but I’m taggin you because I know you…and can remember your tags. 🙃)  Anybody else who has interest in this topic…

     

     

    "But how could you live and have no story to tell?" - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

    #96208
    Eden Anderson
    @eden-anderson

    EDIT: Reading over my post, I realize that mental illness/disorders is a very broad range…what I’m looking for is resources relating to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and panic disorders specifically.

    "But how could you live and have no story to tell?" - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

    #96213
    Veraza Winterknight
    @kari-karast

    Oh. This is a good topic!

    I’ve used the mayo clinic as a resource before.

    "You can dance with my henchman."

    #96245
    EricaWordsmith
    @ericawordsmith

      @eden-anderson

      I don’t think I have the mental energy to spin a rant on this right now…

      But I’d love pizza and a hedgehug… I don’t know I survived my first week of college without one… <3 <3

      Tek an ohta! Tek an cala!

      #96255
      Sarah Inkdragon
      @sarah-inkdragon

      @eden-anderson

      I’m going to speak from a very personal perspective on this, so please take everything I say with a grain of salt and try to filter out my own bias before taking my word as a correct assumption. This is merely my opinion, and it’s highly opinionated. So just be aware of that.

      I don’t think we handle it well. Not at all.

      Why? For one, mental illnesses are very complex and hard to understand. What’s more, just because something works one way for one person, doesn’t mean it can be generalized. You cannot make a general hypothesis and expect to be able to prove it to be 100% correct, no matter how few variables you take into account. Everyone’s lives are different, and everyone’s reaction to different things are unique. I will not react the same way you do, and you will not react the same way as another person.

      Now, do I think it’s important that we correctly portray mental illnesses? Absolutely. It’s highly prominent in our society today and will probably only grow more prominent, and how do you expect to get people to relate to what you are saying if you can’t even understand it yourself? People incorrectly portray things like depression and anxiety(the big two, I know) all the time, and it doesn’t do any good. Merely mentioning an illness or giving a character an illness does not count as portraying an illness–you are simply telling us that the cancer patient is indeed sick, not what their symptoms are.

      As for what we’ve done poorly–a lot, to be honest. As Christians, we tend to lean towards “clean” fiction, which ends up being the moral equivalence of choosing between eating a cookie and saving someone’s life. It’s not intriguing, it’s not challenging, and we aren’t setting an example by it. We aren’t even showing people what that world could be like, we just setting up a perfect character who has minimal struggles and can’t accomplish anything on their own. (I’m not saying we shouldn’t rely on God to help us get through struggles and that we should try to accomplish everything ourselves–but by human nature we don’t just submit or trust God like that. It’s a struggle. And also, how can we expect God to help us if we don’t want help? Accomplishing things and taking the glory for ourselves are two different things entirely.) Why this fiction doesn’t work is because it’s not human–writing, like any other art, is very subjective. To inspire emotions in a reader or consumer, you must be able to relate to them somehow. No one can relate to a perfect character who has no worldy problems whatsoever. What’s more, “clean” Christian fiction often just entirely ignores that mental issues exist in the first place. Depression is swept under the rug because we often think it’s is just a teenager’s problem, PTSD is put away because “if we trust in God” our life apparently become just fine no matter the horrors we’ve faced.

      My point is that we don’t write what we don’t understand or aren’t comfortable with. We also don’t write what we don’t think is worth writing about. I know a lot of people who completely disregard depression as an actual thing, and think PTSD is something that is entirely left to soldiers. We see the bad side of things, the people who make false claims to cover up the real problems they have, and in doing so we see mental illnesses as a “fad” or stupid problem that people make up as excuses. And yes, in their very base form, mental illnesses are excuses in some way or another. But they’re still problems other than that, and it’s not always as simple as we think. Like I said, you can’t generalize something that is entirely subjective in it’s very nature.

      Our writing must be human–which comes with all the flaws and problems. This doesn’t make our humanity right, but it makes our portrayal of ourselves right. You cannot write a character with depression without selfishness, and you can’t write a person with PTSD without distrust. We are not noble or good enough to be humble enough to fall into the depression that people think of when they think depression, nor are we brave enough to overcome PTSD without first gaining some trust in God.

      I’d love to see more novels with mental illnesses in them, to be honest. It’s not a topic that needs to be glorified, but it is a topic that needs broken down and critically analyzed through writing. Personally, I can relate to character with issues like this so much easier than other character because I understand the mindset. You can tell a much more inspiring story if the reader actually understands what the character is going through and is asking the same questions.

      Anyhow. I’m going to leave it at this for tonight, because it’s nearly midnight and I can’t think anymore. If I said anything odd, it’s probably the last hours of the night shining through. XD I’ll be back tomorrow to clear up anything I said that’s making y’all cringe from the grammar or spelling. 😉

      "A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."

      - C. S. Lewis

      #96280
      Princess Foo
      @princess-foo

      For resources on writing characters with a mental illness, Blame it on the Brain and Counseling the Hard Cases are both about understanding and treating mental illness with a Christian mindset. It’s was interesting to see issues that I thought were purely medical that could be treated through counseling. (Although to be clear, both books encourage people to see the doctor and follow the doctor’s instructions. They were not anti-medicine and did not think that counseling should replace the advice of a healthcare professional.)

      I think we definitely could use more representation in fiction, especially in fantasy, ’cause I don’t see a lot of it there. There also is the issue of autism (which I don’t think is a “mental disorder” but seems relevant. Tagging @ncstokes and @dekreel because I know they have thoughts about it.)

      I once saw a video (Overly Sarcastic Productions: Robots) pointing out that androids in sci-fi were often portrayed as “human but less”. The way they showed the human-but-less-ness was features like not understanding body language, a tendency to take things literally and not understand sayings and metaphors, and no sense of humor. All of those are things that are hard for people on the spectrum, and the only representation they get of people like them are in the human-but-less androids.

      The cake is a lie. acaylor.com

      #96300
      NCStokes
      @ncstokes

      Gooooood morning, I was summoned. So yes, as you might be able to infer from my being tagged, I am on the autism spectrum. I’ve only known since about the beginning of this year, so my knowledge, aside from personal experience, is limited. But I do consider myself pretty informed. As for mental disorders, I see a lot of the depictions of mental illnesses in the media are wildly inaccurate. I don’t know about Christian fiction in particular, because quite frankly, I’ve *never* seen any mental illness represented in it. I don’t read a lot of explicitly Christian fiction to begin with, but you’d think I would have seen a hint of representation somewhere.

      The media in general has a warped idea of what mental disorders look like. From what I’ve seen, they’re built of stereotypes and “romanticized” versions of things that, in reality, are complicated and very, very ugly. They have the flair of someone saying “oh I’m so depressed” after dropping a spoon. It’s also a very personal thing, so the cookie-cutter image of “this is what depression/anxiety/PTSD/OCD/etc. looks like” just does’t work. Writing real mental disorders requires knowledge of that disorder, and empathy for people who have it. People don’t like to admit it, but a lot of their knowledge about things they haven’t experienced personally comes from the media. So shows like 13 Reasons Why, which romanticize depression and suicide, do more than just spread a little misinformation. They shape how people see others, and their own disorders, and it isn’t pretty.

      All this to say, there’s a void of accurate representation to fill, and it’s a very important void. And who is better equipped to spread understanding than Christians? So though it is sad we don’t see a lot of it, there’s still a lot of good to be done when we go the extra mile secular media doesn’t.

      As @princess-foo mentioned, autism seems relevant. I wouldn’t say it’s a mental disorder myself, but it is a mental… something. I would characterize it as, if our brains are computers, us peeps on the spectrum have a different operating system. There are upsides, there are downsides, and they’re probably not what you think they are.

      It’s another case of representation being lazy and wrong and people’s collective knowledge taking damage because of it. You probably know the “white autistic guy whose special interest is space/trains/something of that nature, who’s REALLY good at math, with poor social skills that border on charming sometimes” character. Not to say there aren’t people like this, hey, I’ve had friends like this, and they’re awesome! But there are also autistic girls. Kids who prefer ancient Greece over trains any day. Teenagers who might have developed a lot of skills to mask their social skill disadvantages, but DO NOT want to touch anything with a weird texture, please and thank you. And we’re not all white, seriously. (Oh, and if you, like me at first, think autism is represented by a little blue puzzle piece, allow me to cLeAr uP A mIScoNcePtion reAL QUicK. That puzzle piece is the logo of Autism Speaks, which is not a pro-autism group at all. Look up “autism speaks controversy” if you’re curious.)

      But there’s a lot about autism that gets glossed over in the media. I’m super temped to just dump everything I know right here, but that would be… a long post. XD Basically, there a LOT of stereotypes that don’t line up with reality at all. If you want to write a real autistic character, for the love of all that is sweet and crunchy, RESEARCH! Don’t believe what’s on TV. 😉 I’m also available if ya want to chat. I, of course am only an expert on my own autism, but I’m here to help!

      • This reply was modified 1 year, 1 month ago by NCStokes. Reason: Tags whyyy
      • This reply was modified 1 year, 1 month ago by NCStokes.

      *shameless self promotion* https://weridasusual.home.blog/

      #96375
      Josiah DeGraaf
      @josiah

      There are a lot of good thoughts here already, so I suppose I’m mostly going to be piggybacking off what other people have said! 🙂 Like @ncstokes alluded to, I don’t see a lot of representation of characters with mental illnesses or disorders in the Christian fiction I’ve read. The closest I’ve seen people generally get is by portraying characters with depression or anxiety–and normally in those cases they’re portrayed as spiritual problems to overcome (which certainly can be the case for some people), not as also being mental illnesses (which can also definitely be the case for some people). The only Christian book I can think of that depicts a character with a mental disorder is Death Comes for the Deconstructionist by Daniel Taylor, which won the Christianity Today award for best novel a couple years back, but my memory is pretty fuzzy on the book.

      I suspect that many writers are scared away from this subject by the wealth of research that needs to be done to do this well along by fear of offending someone. But I definitely think that depicting more characters with mental illnesses or disorders is important and would love to see more Christian works doing so!

      Lit fanatic. Eclectic reader. Theology nerd. Writing fantasy at https://josiahdegraaf.com

      #96400
      Grace
      @literatureforthelight

      @eden-anderson

      I’m not sure there’s much for me to say, since I personally am pretty uninformed. But I think that in Christian fiction, mental disorders can come alongside spiritual issues, and perhaps a character struggles with both. I say this out of a struggle a few years ago when a period of irrational fears turned into a real soul-searching time that revealed a lot of the doubts that I had towards God. Did I, in the end, have to put my faith in God? Yes, and that struggle for me is a great testimony of how God protected me and led me towards Him. But was there a definite psychological aspect? Yes! Even when I knew the truth about Jesus, it still took several emotionally warped months for me to finally feel better, and the same thoughts kept happening occasionally for the next two years. I think that psychologically, things that influence our thoughts and emotions aren’t always easy to understand, but when they do surface, they can exacerbate our spiritual struggles.

      Echoing what everybody else has said, we do need to understand that medically there is a lot going on in people’s lives besides their sin, be it emotionally or mentally. Displaying that in all its complexity is an important direction for Christian fiction to take.

      INFJ // The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

      #96568
      Eden Anderson
      @eden-anderson

      @kari-karast Hey, friend, it’s been too long!! What’s been happening? How are you? 🤗

      Thanks for the suggestion.

      *hands you pizza*

      And here’s a hedgehug! 😉


      @ericawordsmith

      It’s been too long since I’ve talked to you too! How are you? Your in college?!! What are you studying?😍

      I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

      *hands you pizza just because*


      @sarah-inkdragon

      Great thoughts on this and love your passion!

      (*whispers* You made sense, by the way. 😊)

      Thanks for pointing out that mental illnesses is a very complex thing and will vary greatly from person to person…I feel like that’s a very important thing to remember.

      What’s more, “clean” Christian fiction often just entirely ignores that mental issues exist in the first place. Depression is swept under the rug because we often think it’s is just a teenager’s problem, PTSD is put away because “if we trust in God” our life apparently become just fine no matter the horrors we’ve faced.

      OUCH. Too true I’m afraid. Why do we do that?

      And yes, in their very base form, mental illnesses are excuses in some way or another.

      Interesting statement. What exactly do you mean by this?

      Thanks for your thoughts! Some great stuff  to chew on for awhile.🙂


      @princess-foo

      You are awesome! 😁

      Thanks for all the suggestions!!

      Here is your extra-large, extra-cheesy pizza. (I hope you like cheese!😜)


      @ncstokes

      You have a post about autism on your blog don’t you? I read it and it was really interesting and informative. Ever since I watched a movie about Temple Grandin (are you familiar with her?) I’ve been interested in autism.

      I rarely read “Christian” fiction either so I thought maybe I was just missing the books that have mental illness/disorders in them. I guess it’s a bigger problem than I thought. 😥

      So you are saying that there is a huge opportunity for Christians to put mental disorders in fiction and do it well? Especially because the media does a very poor job? I just hope we take that opportunity.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts; they were helpful!! And thanks for the insider look at autism!🤗


      @josiah

      The closest I’ve seen people generally get is by portraying characters with depression or anxiety–and normally in those cases they’re portrayed as spiritual problems to overcome (which certainly can be the case for some people), not as also being mental illnesses (which can also definitely be the case for some people).

      That really gets under my skin when people paint mental illness with a broad stroke and say that its all, purely spiritual and “mental illnesses” don’t actually exist.

      Yes, I agree, it can be spiritual, but thats not ALWAYS the case.

      Can someone please tell me why people do that? Especially christians…?

      *breathes*

       

      Well, I will admit that the thought of all that research has scared me a little. 😛


      @literatureforthelight

      Yeah, it is really confusing and complex!

      I agree completely that the psychological and spiritual are intertwined (everything is connected after all) but when people say that mental illness is “purely psychological” or “purely spiritual” that is dangerous, if not wrong. At least in my opinion.

       

       

      Thanks, everybody, for your thoughts!

      *throws pizzas*

       

      "But how could you live and have no story to tell?" - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

      #96569
      Aislinn Mollisong
      @aislinn-mollisong

      Before I start saying anything, let me just announce that I have nothing deep or super meaningful to add to this . . . anyways here we go.

      As someone who has anxiety and ADHD and some other stuff, I can tell you that almost every book I’ve ever read where a character has things like that get it wrong. (And that’s maybe . .  . six books. And NEVER main characters.) They usually portray anxiety as always worrying about everything, and that’s pretty much it. In reality, it’s more like . . . being on edge all the time, getting nervous when things are very loud or when there is a large group of unfamiliar people, feeling vaguely uncomfortable and fidgety most of the time. Your brain treats places that aren’t ‘safe’ places like enemy territory. I once saw it described as ‘always hearing the danger music in a videogame but never seeing the bad guy’ and that’s pretty accurate.

      With ADHD (again, only like six books and never portrayed by MCs) you always think of a spacey distracted ball of energy, right? “SQUIRREL!” And while that is something that happens often, it isn’t all there is to it. It’s forgetting things people say like two seconds after them saying it, or not being able to do anything if either a) things are too quiet or b) there is any noise at all whatsoever. There’s also executive dysfunction, which pretty much means that you can’t make yourself do something, even if that thing is something you want to do. You feel like you have to wait for something else to happen first. It’s hard to filter out important things from unimportant things, so often you get overwhelmed and end up remembering the random stuff instead of what you’re supposed to. Either your brain races ahead and you figure stuff out way before everyone else, or it skips like a scratched DVD and you can’t even think about the thing properly. Sitting still is also not a thing, not because there’s so much energy, but because if you don’t move you can’t think.

      Both anxiety and ADHD are pretty exhausting because your brain is going in overtime trying to absorb and process everything around you while watching out for potential danger.

      This is the way my brain works, and several of my friends are in the same boat. In my own writing, several of my main characters do have anxiety and such, but I didn’t even realize for almost a year. I’d just been writing them that way because I didn’t know how ‘normal’ people think.

      Since everybody’s different, research lots. And yeah that’s all I have to say.

      Hero with an overactive imagination

      #96572
      Veraza Winterknight
      @kari-karast

      @eden-anderson Hey! *hugs back then gobbles pizza* I’m pretty good, just got a slight cold. I’m just working on too many story ideas, as usual. XD What about you?

      Also, now that I think about it, Mayo Clinic might not be the one I’m thinking of. Cuz I remember looking up PTSD before, and I thought I found stuff about it on Mayo Clinic, but now that I think about it, I might be getting things mixed up. So if I gave you an unhelpful resource, I’m sorry.

      "You can dance with my henchman."

      #96602
      Chelsea R.H.
      @seekjustice

      @eden-anderson

      This is a great topic! I am very passionate about these sorts of things, particularly anxiety, PTSD and autism. I’m a dog trainer, which doesn’t seem to be immediately connected, but my hope is to specialise in psychiatric service dogs. And so I’ve been doing a lot of research  and reading up on various mental illnesses and things like autism and ADHD. Of course, these illnesses have to be to the point that they are debilitating, so the sort of handler that has an anxiety dog is not the same as the “average” (if any of it can be called that) person with diagnosed anxiety, but the same principle applies I think.

      To be honest, I have never seen a good portrayal of any sort of mental illness in Christian fiction. In fact, one of the only mental illnesses I’ve seen in Christian fiction is PTSD. Every rough Christian “Bad boy” was a soldier in his past and now suffers from “Shellshock”. I have done a lot of research on PTSD, especially the ways it manifested in a historical context (I write WW1 fiction) and I have never seen it portrayed in a way that seemed real and authentic in a Christian novel. According to Christian fiction, PTSD is simply flashbacks and nightmares that are immediately healed by accepting that they strayed from Jesus’ good path for them.

      As a couple of people have already said, our minds and souls are linked. But neither one is purely responsible for PTSD, in my opinion, and so neither can really fully heal it either. Of course, I believe God could heal PTSD, just as he can heal cancer and brain injuries and everything else, but the fact is that he usually doesn’t completely take it away.

      Having said that, mainstream media (I mainly have noticed it in YA novels) have been working on this a lot lately. There have been some really good books that deal with mental illnesses, specifically anxiety (let me just say, I have never been diagnosed with anxiety and I would never say I have it, but out of all mental illnesses, it is the one I relate to the most. I am almost constantly worried about something, usually illogically) that have been published lately. Iron  Man has sort of become an icon for his depiction of PTSD and i’m 100% sure Katniss Everdeen has PTSD as well.

      But do Christians deal with it well?

      Nope.

      Having said that, I firmly believe that we can change. I do my best to give my characters realistic reactions to war and abuse, in some cases giving them PTSD and anxiety when it seems to fit the character. And obviously, a lot of you guys feel the same way and are trying to do the same.

      Anyway…does this make sense? Am I just rambling?

      Mahalo keia huiʻana

      #96635
      Jenna Terese
      @jenwriter17

      @eden-anderson

      I thought the If I Run series by Terri Blackstock was a good one that represented PTSD. It seemed very realistic and true to the facts.

      "If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write." -Martin Luther
      www.jennaterese.com

      #96674
      Evelyn
      @evelyn

      @eden-anderson Oh ear this is close to home.

      Well it looks like a lot of over people have type up their rants. Good job all you for taking that time and energy. XD

      And while I’m not super familiar with PTSD, I have had a ton of hands on experiance with mental illness for the past couple years. So here we go. 😛

      I can’t say I have read many books that portrayed mental illnesses and in a way I’m scared to even know what Christian novels have to say about it. When my family was going through a rocky time because of a sudden and extreme case of mental illness it was really painful when old friends would come and pull us aside and tell us what is happening is happening because of my parent’s lack of faith and that we need to believe better for her to heal and so on and so forth.

      Not to make any enemies, in fact if anyone around here knows me they’ll know I hate “Christian Fiction” because it is usually so sterilized and stiff and rubs me in all the wrong places (like for starters that chunk that ends the book on the conversation. Please. Just don’t.)

      Like @sarah-inkdragon said:

      What’s more, “clean” Christian fiction often just entirely ignores that mental issues exist in the first place. Depression is swept under the rug because we often think it’s is just a teenager’s problem, PTSD is put away because “if we trust in God” our life apparently become just fine no matter the horrors we’ve faced. 

      I am going to respectively disagree with you though on

      And yes, in their very base form, mental illnesses are excuses

      Maybe you didn’t mean it quite how that sounds and I’m really curious what you meant by that. 🙂

      Anyways, I for one would not trust someone to write about mental illness unless they have had lots of research and preferably experiance and I feel like that would show through in the story in whether it rings true or not.

      The thing about (explicit and ‘clean’) Christian Fiction (for me, and again, not to offend anyone) is I wouldn’t trust 99% them to portray mental illness in its most raw and realistic state, and even if they do, the likelyhood of them tacking on some one-liner statement or shallow theology with it is high, (and same to you Christian movies 😛 ) and mental illness is really very complicated (another reason one should reasearch the area a lot)

      The topic of depression as a mental illness I can not speak for. Its a real thing sometimes, but even then it confuses me and sometimes I wonder if there are people that use it as excuses in certain circumstances (just like people will use the excuse of introvert to opt out of mission/community/church work because “oh I’m an introvert.)

      Just like anything else mental illness is real but can be twisted in so many wrong, wrong ways.

      And I better run before I step on any more toes. XD

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