Discussion: Is Mental Illness Becoming a Trend?

In the past, I've cheered-on authors for including the topic of mental illness in their novels, and even sat down to write a blog post about how I want to read about characters that suffer from the conditions we hardly hear about, to possibly challenge some of the stereotypes we - and society - have come to accept. We have all heard the comments made about the organisation-obsession those with OCD have, or how the person who is having a particularly bad day is deemed as 'depressed'. But, where are the books where main characters are struggling with eating-disorders? Battling against bulimia? I don't know.
When addressed with care, including mental illness in YA can have an undeniable impact on readers, offering them the chance to learn - through the characters - how to support a friend or recognise the symptoms of a condition.  Not only can it teach empathy skills to non-sufferers - and end the stigma that surrounds many of the most common conditions -  but a book that tackles mental illness can provide a safe-haven for a teenager in need. They have the comfort of knowing one of their favourite characters is in a similar situation - and is likely to survive it. I could write an almost endless list of all the positives that come from writing about mental illness - but that's for another time. What I wanted to discuss was the trend that is beginning to appear when it comes to tackling mental illness, and why I hope it comes to an end soon.

Responses to the likes of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Silver Linings Playbook, which became well-known for breaking down the barriers of mental illness in fiction, have been overwhelming. Authors have followed their lead, penning their own tales about other 'taboo' topics of conversation, and YA sections have never been so diverse. And I do love this. Although, the success of those that are not sugar-coated seems to have set the precedent for some mistreatment of mental health issues within fiction. In fact, it is seemingly being used as the latest 'selling point' in the YA world; a trend reminiscent of the vampire take-over that followed the Twilight Saga, and the Dystopia-craze that we saw in the Hunger Games aftermath. I'm not the only one that complained about how every YA was centred on a sixteen year-old protagonist, who was likely to be facing a life-or-death scenario.
Lately, whilst in a bookstore, I've lost count of the number of novels I've come across that include a mentally ill main central character on the search of new beginnings, and who meets a friend that is described as being equally ''messed up". YA presents the idea that, in a crowded world, those with mental illnesses seem to gravitate towards each other. That, in doing so, they will probably develop a relationship - one that, by the end of the book, typically come to an end; the characters seemingly causing some form of self-destruction. Books need to show that those with a mental illness are not 'outsiders', but are capable of immersing themselves in our society.  Equally, the life of those with a mental illness should not be viewed as a fast-track to a dramatic storyline or heart-breaking ending that will have readers reaching for the Kleenex. Can we not just bring back the idea of a Happily Ever After?

The assumption also seems to have been made that, to score a few extra stars on rating systems, a YA book needs to include a mentally ill character. That it needs to embody a sense of diversity by forcing a condition upon a character or a more 'mature' subject matter onto the novel as a whole.  The same, though, can be said when it comes to including someone who is LGBT or disabled.  I've seen the half-hearted attempts by authors to feature a mentally-ill character, with very little thought for the subject matter itself, and it's no surprise that I've begun to feel hesitant. Mental illness is not a fast-track ticket to becoming the next critically-acclaimed novel. Including a character with a mental illness should be a decision that is thought-out and well-researched; handled with an emotional-depth and understanding that other topics don't call for. Remember: those with the conditions that are written about do read the novels, and they need to see themselves reflected in the tale.
At times, though, mental illness shouldn't be all a book is about, but simply mentioned consistently. I'd love to see a book written that features a mentally ill character, yet  isn't about the condition they have directly. I've never seen this done before. Use books to represent the fact that people of all ages live their daily lives with a mental illness, and it may only affect them in the most subtle ways. When authors decide to include mental illness, they do so in a way that means it dominates the whole storyline.  I would rather see a character whose illness has become part of them but who has a life outside the label of 'mentally ill'.

As more novels about mental illness crowd the shelves, and most lack the understanding of the last, I've resorted to wanting less novels about the subject matter. I'd rather read a few where the author has considered the feelings of those who do have a mental illness, than a lot where writers have simply followed the crowd.
Are issues like mental illness being used as a selling point?
Are they becoming the latest trend?
Tell me in the comments!
These discussion posts are never written with the intent to harm a reader. If you do find something that could be viewed as offensive in this post, please do not hesitate to contact me.



  1. I'm definitely seeing that trend in YA. But for me, the biggest problem is that they don't teach the best way to handle mental illness. I am sick of books that send the message that getting help is bad, or that having an eating disorder is healthy and cool. If an author is going to write about mental illness, I think they should do so in a way that will HELP readers suffering from the condition, not encourage them to hide it.

  2. I agree and disagree. There definitely needs to be proper research conducted by authors before trying to include a mentally ill character. I've read books about mental health issues where the issue isn't exactly as I've witnessed or experienced it, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been written properly, or that the author hasn't researched it and instead forced the condition on the character. It just means perhaps that's how the author experienced or witnessed it themselves. With this topic, I don't think there's a right or wrong because everyone's different. For example, say we both have OCD. You might object to a book where the MC constantly washes her hands because it's stereotypical or because you don't think that's how the illness is, but I might love that because it might represent me completely. (For the record, I don't have OCD, I just couldn't think of another example.)

    You said you'd rather read about someone whose illness has become part of them but who has a life outside the label of 'mentally ill.' Some people with mental health issues don't have a life outside of the label, as much as they'd like one, because that's how their illness is. I was agoraphobic for months. I also know someone with depression who stayed in bed for over a month because they couldn't bring themselves to do anything else. To ignore this and them would be detrimental when it's such a common thing. I have yet to read a book about that, which is pretty sad.

    This might be unpopular opinion but I don't care if mental illness is being used as a selling point - as long as it's not being glamourised but is getting the word out there and putting a dent in the stigma, then that's brilliant in my opinion. And I very much hope it's becoming a trend, because that will show it's becoming more accepted and less stigmatised. As long as people don't self-diagnose themselves because of it.

    In the end, I think everything should be covered at some point. Mentally ill people with social lives and those without. Mental illness covered a bit in one book, and a lot in another. A book where mentally ill people gravitate towards each other, and another where they don't. Whatever happens in the book, it'll be telling the story of a real live person somewhere in the world, and for everyone to be represented I think everything you mentioned, even the stuff you're not particularly fond of, should be written about somewhere. Because someone out there will relate and be comforted. :)

  3. Yeah, I'm seeing a bit of a trend too. As long as it's not treated as cool, I can't see the problem. In 'The Perks of Being the Wallflower', Charlie's state isn't really preferable. I don't believe many readers would want to go through what he does.

    - Love, Felicia
    ( )

  4. I suffer from bit of Mental illiness myself , I suffer from Asperger Syndrome (autism) and like how writes now write about Mental Illness like Asperger Syndrome or anixtey,since many of this books I won't if they lack understanding.


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Sophie Louise