My View on Mental Illness in Modern Literature

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In the past few months, I’ve read one trending fictional YA novel centred on a character’s suicide, and 2 real life memoirs where the authors attempted to take their lives and were institutionalised.

The former was called 13 Reasons Why, where the central character listens to audio tapes where Hannah explains what lead to her suicide. Some of the “reasons” (but not all) were simply Hannah’s overreactions to normal teenage life.  Other reasons where more pressing, but nothing she could not have lived through and come out the other side of.  I didn’t like how the book portrayed depression at all.  Although depression has its triggers, it is not unequivocally caused by events or a series of events.  It is an illness as natural as the common cold and can happen to anyone – regardless of their circumstances.

I also read Girl Interrupted, a memoir from which the film of the same name was made.  The author clearly had a madness to her, there is no question of that, yet she depicts her gradual slide in and out of madness as something that wasn’t really so mad at all.  She had lost a lot of interest in what her life had to offer and started questioning whether she was truly motivated to stay alive.  Then one day she overdosed on pills, seemingly just to end the dreary obsession.  It was then that she was admitted to a mental health hospital.  It is clear that she was more sane than any of her fellow patients, however, and that some patients were merely acting up just because they could.

In contrast was the memoir-like classic, The Bell Jar.  Here the same madness was depicted entirely differently.  Stark, bold, unworldly, horrific and deadly.  The author had been living a young lady’s dream life, but things began slipping away from her and on a whim she got herself into a deliberate skiing accident.  She too was institutionalised, but when an acquaintance was also admitted the author failed to recognise that other people really could go through the same thing.

In both memoirs, both authors were eventually found to be sane enough to leave the institutions.

All 3 books were very readable, but words in The Bell Jar had a poetry to them, and it was far more striking and effective.

So I guess the points I want to make are these:

  • Depression can happen to anyone, regardless of circumstances
  • Bad event/s don’t have to lead to suicide
  • Recovery is possible and is even common
  • Memoirs have a truth to them, whereas novels are purely for entertainment

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Cari

Book blogger, excitement conveyor, and information forager.

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