September 10, 2012

Guest Post: The Stigma of Mental Health

Christina Lee from is stopping by today for a guest post on stigma. You can read her guest post from last year's Psychtember here. Welcome back, Christina!
Based on some recent YA novels I’ve read, here’s a recap of what mental health looks like: a teen reluctantly trudges to the counselor/social worker/therapist’s office. Said therapist is bumbling idiot or really quirky or just plain stupid. Or at the very least, they ask really dumb questions. The teens slumps in the chair, mumbles, crosses their arms, thereby closing the therapist off.  They refuse to fess up or be honest about their problems, which might be the symptoms to a real disorder like OCD, Bi-Polar, Anxiety, or Depression. The symptoms list could include: failing grades, no friends, anger, shouting matches with parents, breaking school and home rules, impulsivity, crying jags, or general unhappiness.  
Now let’s swap the mental health disorder for a medical problem, like diabetes, celiac disease, or epilepsy.  The above scenario looks totally ridiculous, no? No way would someone march into a doctor’s office and act that way. They’d want to help for their problem, STAT.  They wouldn’t treat the doctor like crap, even if denial, anger and sadness came later.
So, it’s 2012 and mental health still has a bad rep. It’s definitely improved, more readily accepted, and people are diagnosed and getting help every day. But it’s still hidden, shameful, not something people willingly discuss—especially when it comes to kids, therapy, and meds.  People still use words like crazy, psycho, schizo, and whack-a-doo in describing certain scenarios.
And yeah, teens are supposed to buck the system, refuse help, and hate adults. But not all teens, all the time. And maybe it’s just getting old and kind of gimmicky, but I am now seeking books that are not representative of the above scenario—I know they’re out there.  And truth be told, I’m writing one myself. Because though you never ever want to get preachy in YA, you do want to show reality and growth (also known as character arc). And growth can be shown without the teen refusing help or getting off those “crazy” meds. There are living and breathing people walking around who will probably need help and/or meds their entire lifetime, just like a diabetic would. And that, my friends, is reality.
Christina Lee has been a social worker and a special education teacher (also, a dinosaur excavator, a Lego contractor, and a Thomas the Train conductor), and finally realized that she could turn her love of words into her DREAM of writing. She writes freelance and Young Adult fiction and blogs at . She also own a hand-stamped jewelry business called Tags-n-Stones, which requires her to stamp lots of letter and words onto pieces of silver. Notice a pattern here?

I agree — it has gotten somewhat better, but unfortunately stigma of mental health issues is still very much present. Thanks very much, Christina, for sharing your views on this issue!


  1. Agree with your assertions, here; great post. One thing I'd add, too, is that writers could do a better job of representing mental illnesses in their work. Actually research them instead of just going off of stereotypes. There are plenty of resources out there, including books and memoirs written by people who have experienced them.

  2. My son wasn't thrilled with going to see a psychologist at first, and he did think the guy was kind of whacky (as did I), but it worked. My son developed coping strategies that he didn't have before.

    I'm guilty of having a character who doesn't what to get help.

  3. Thanks, Tiff. I agree. On the flip side, I've also seen it done really really well.

    Stina, we're probably all guilty. :-) Glad to hear that about your son!

  4. Therapy, and therapists, are just like everything else in life. It, and they, run the gamut. There are terrible ones and there are great ones, and I completely agree they should be equally represented in fiction.


I love comments, so post away!

Related Posts with Thumbnails