Writer Wednesday: Changing the Conversation thru Representation
Hello authors, and welcome to the middle of the week. There are lots of exciting events coming up and happening now for the Sword & Silk family, but today, we will continue in vein from earlier this month on the subject of representation in Fiction. The first post I did centered around the importance of authenticity in own voices and how there is a vast spectrum of cultural experience within a minority group. The same can be said of Mental Health where diagnoses and experiences can be greatly varied. Depression can be experienced from mild to crippling. Due to how mental illness and disability often find themselves lumped together, I want to note that Mental Health and Neuro Divergence are two very separate fields. A great many neuro divergent individuals do suffer from mental health issues, but a neuro divergent condition like Autism is not a mental illness.
May is Mental Health Awareness month and I've touched on the topic before right about this time last year when I discussed the Stigma surrounding mental health and the negative connotations of representation surrounding it in our fiction and media. I want to take that a step further. Accurate and honest mental health representation in fiction is critical to changing the conversation surrounding our societal view of mental health. I'm not pinning it all on our fiction, that would be simply irresponsible. There is a lot we still need to tackle on the mental health front, particularly how employers view the seriousness of mental health vs physical health (neither are handled all that great in the States, let's be honest here), and the availability of mental health services to the general population.
Our fiction is often our focal point when it comes to societal issues, a lens to experience and understand viewpoints outside of our own, hence why authentic voices are so important. This includes representation for mental health which has been notoriously vilified and stigmatized in the past. To put a fine point on it through example, we adopted common phrases of 'she's a psycho' or 'He's a sociopath' into our everyday language when referring to people who display negative behaviors. Our portrayals of villains and 'bad guys' in our stories and media often attribute a mental illness to these characters, ignoring the very real mental conditions behind them and that people do have these mental conditions that they manage every day. Horror is particularly guilty of this move (Midsommar immediately comes to mind here). Mental illness is not inherently good or evil, but when every portrayal of a mental condition is attached to an 'evil character' our perception becomes skewed.
Stories can serve as the first entry point of collective knowledge. We may encourage people to look beyond that initial point, but first impressions are lasting. Even if every story released from this point on portrayed mental health and illness in an accurate, compassionate, and even positive fashion, it would still take years to undo the stigma surrounding it. We have to start somewhere and we can nurture those seeds of change by continuing to push for diverse and accurate representation in fiction.
Resources & Further Reading
Join us at the US Book Show as our authors discuss Mental Health & Disability Representation in Fiction today at 4:30 PM EST. There will also be an acquisitions chat with the Pub Team at 1:30 PM EST!