Today, I'm glad to have Mike Schlossberg, author of Redemption, stopping by the blog for Mental Illness in YA Month, with a wonderful guest post about fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness by writing about it.
Let me start with a bit of a confession: When it comes to ensuring that mental illness is adequately discussed in society, I’m biased as hell. one in five American adults actively suffer from mental illness, and I’m one of them.
That being said, hiya! My name is Mike Schlossberg. My full-time job is to serve as a State Representative for the 132nd District of Pennsylvania, serving the people off Allentown and South Whitehall Township. I also write, and recently completed Redemption, my Young Adult, science fiction thriller about depression, anxiety and the end of the world.
I’ll talk more about my book later, but for the purposes of this entry, let me get right to my most important point: The main character, Asher Maddox, is a twenty-year old college drop out, who left school thanks to depression and anxiety. For reasons unknown, he finds himself onboard the Redemption, where he is Captain of a spaceship in charge of saving the world from the deadly Spades virus.
The plot, I hope, is interesting and compelling, and would give any young adult/science fiction fan a reason to read. But the decision to have the main character suffer from mental illness – and deal with his mental illness throughout the book – belies one of my goals with this piece of work: to attack the stigma that surrounds mental health.
As I said earlier, one in five Americans will suffer from mental illness; one in two adults will over the course of their lifetime. And of those tens of millions of us, only 40% will seek treatment. That’s for many reasons, but stigma, and self-stigma, play a huge role in keeping people out of treatment. This prevents them from leading good, productive, happy lives.
So, how can we shoot down the stigma which surrounds mental illness? There are many methods, of course, and that includes public awareness campaigns and testimonials. But research has consistently shown that the contact strategy is most effective. That means giving people someone they can relate to and having that person discuss their challenges and struggles. In other words, average people need to talk with others about their mental illness.
This is wonderful when it happens, and it needs to happen more. This, of course, is where literature can come into play. Every author has a different strategy, a different philosophy, but mine is this: The more relatable a character is, the more powerful they can be, the more of an influence they can have and the stronger connection they can make. As such, I wrote a main character with major mental health issues into a Young Adult book – something I felt was particularly necessary given that 75% of mental illness onsets by age 24.
There is a fatal flaw in my logic, of course: Fictional people are, by their definition, not real (yeah, slight problem, I know). But fictional people – flawed heroes – appeal to us because they are relatable. Because, in a different set of circumstances, they can be us. After all, we identify with characters who remind us of ourselves in some form. So, by writing characters with mental illness – showing them struggle, showing them fail, and showing them push on – I hope that I can encourage others to find a piece of themselves in the struggles endured in Redemption.
That, at it’s core, is why characters with mental health issues need to be featured more prominently in all sorts of genres. They make the struggles all of us face more relatable and more poignant, particularly if done in a realistic way. Doing so can create compelling, complex stories, while teaching a lesson and providing inspiration that the reader may not have known they needed to learn.
Thank you, Mike, for such a wonderful guest post!
Mike Schlossberg is the author of Redemption, available on Amazon and other formats. To learn more about Mike, you can check out his website, read his blog or find him on Facebook and Twitter.
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