Mental Health in Young Adult Fiction

As an author, I owe it to my readers to present a realistic, inclusive world. Whether we have an own voices story to tell, or our experience comes from research, it is important that readers can see themselves in a book. Recently, this has meant ensuring diversity is included as well as LGBTQ+, disability, chronic illness and mental health, to name a few.

The diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions is still in its infancy and we have a long way to go before the stigma is erased. One of the key changes should be, in my opinion, the very title “mental health,” which can promote negative responses. In turn, people hide away their concerns and doubts and don’t get the help they need. Do you remember being called “mental,” “nuts,” “or schizo” on the school playground? It’s these words that have perpetuated a negative stigma that we must work hard to erase. Mental health conditions are only, in fact, mental when it comes to their association with the brain. Chemical imbalances and “faulty” wiring are what’s to blame, not because someoneisn’t strong enough to deal or needs to pull their socks up. You’d never think of telling a diabetic that it’s all in their head and they don’t really need insulin. Faced with judgement from friends, parents and medical staff, it’s no wonder why wo many people don’t get the help they need. 

Our teenage years can be some of the most emotional and impressionable, as not only our bodies go through significant changes, but so does the development of our brains. Therefore, it is especially important that we shine a light on the problems teenagers face and show them how to fight their way through. Especially with the intrusion of social media onto our daily lives. It used to be if you were bullied at school, at least you could leave the experience at the door when you came home and feel as though you were in a safe place. Now, with social media, the bully can walk in the door with you. How do you get away from that?

During my years growing up in the States. It was common practice to employ a guidance counsellor on staff permanently. There to help guide students during issues of bullying, lost homework, or truancy, they were also the first port of call to spot more serious problems. And of course they could lend an ear if a student was willing to seek them out. If we had such a practice in the UK, perhaps the NHS waiting times for therapy wouldn’t be quite so overwhelmed. And it is widely acknowledged that Americans are more accepting of mental health support. 

During the sensitive teenage years, kids often clamp down on their emotions, are unable to find the words to talk about how they are feeling or are just plain embarrassed about having a problem. Many avoid seeking help. If I, as an author, can show them support in books, to make them feel a little less alone, to normalize their condition, then it’s an important and responsible role.

When I was fifteen, I spent a year with anorexia and it took a tremendous amount of strength and family support to fight my way through. At the time, even though I was at a private girls’school where the library was well stocked, I found only one book that deal with the issue. Unable to put into words how I was feeling, I was able to hand that book to my mother and say “this.” It’s good to see that many more books are being released around the topic, my favorite of this year so far The Year I Didn’t Eat by Samuel Pollen.

That wasn’t my only brush with a mental health problem. While I was at university, two of my friends died from Meningitis and the experience catapulted me into an anxiety disorder which I still live with today. It took me many years, hours of therapy, three different psychologists and the unending support of my parents and husband to find myself in a functional place. I have my ups and downs and will continue to do so. I have been down the journey of denial, anger, and am finally at acceptance (mostly). But at the time, I never found a novel that showed what I was going through. Yes, there were self-help books and textbooks etc, and I educated myself on the physiological symptoms pf panic attacks, but I wanted to know I was ok how I was. That I didn’t need to change. That it wasn’t my fault. And, I believe, the only way to show people with mental health issues that they are not at fault, is to give them a voice on the page. Show how normal it is. Take the stigma away. Let’s raise our teenagers with the confidence to be ok in their own skin and that they don’t have to hide from help. The message here: You don’t have to be fixed.

As a result of my experiences, I often include mental health issues in my own writing. My debut book, The Shadow Keepers, was released on July 30th and follows a sixteen-year-old girl who sees shadowy creatures in mirrors. When no one believes her and after years of being tormented, she develops anxiety and OCD. When she is remanded to the UK’s best mental health hospital, she knows she will have to face her fears, face the shadows. But there is a unique strength in those who have mental health issues in the book, and it is only them who can destroy these insidious monsters.

I’ve chosen the supernatural setting so that the introduction into the mental health aspect isn’t forced or preachy. It often helps to view a serious issue within a fantastical setting so that the problem, which the reader may also experience, isn’t too close for comfort and can be read at a comfortable distance while also providing entertainment. 

In conclusion, although we are seeing good strides forward in the identification and treatment of mental health problems, we have a long way to go. In the meantime, I’d like to see a variety of these issues reflected within mainstream commercial novels that teens can read to increase their awareness and to feel solidarity among their peers. 

You can find me at my website: www.MarisaNoelle.com or come say hi to me on Twitter where I’m very vocal about mental health @MarisaNoelle77  

Categories: Opinion

marisanoelle

Young adult author of grounded sci-fi, contemporary fantasy and mental health issues.

THE SHADOW KEEPERS (summer 2019): 16 year old Georgia Boone was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and OCD, six years ago. The medication hasn’t helped and she still sees the spooky, crow-like shadow creatures in every reflective surface. After a violent incident involving a broken mirror and a shop assistant, Georgia is committed to a famous mental hospital to gain control over her condition. But Georgia knows the shadows are real, and she knows its only a matter of time before they come for her. Her only hope is Elijah, the boy in the mirror world, who might know more than she does. Together, they must find allies and stop the shadow creatures before they breach the human world, before it’s too late.

THE UNADJUSTEDS (AuTumn 2019): Sixteen-year old Silver Melody lives in a world where 80% of the population have modified their DNA. Otherwise known as the superfreaks, people now possess wings, tails, increased strength or intelligence, to name a few. Although her parents are the scientific creators of the nanite pill – the method used to deliver these genetic modifications – Silver is proud of her unadjusted state.

When the President declares all unadjusteds must take a nanite pill, Silver has no choice but to flee the city with her father and a group of friends (insert love triangle here) to prevent the extinction of the unadjusteds.

With her mother in prison for treason, her father is their only hope at finding a cure. But time is running out. When Silver’s father is captured by the president’s almost immortal army, all hope seems lost. Vicious hellhounds are on her trail and Silver’s only chance to get him back is to team up with a new group of unlikely friends to rescue him before all humanity is lost.

With the pace of the Divergent series and the superhuman powers of Heroes, The Unadjusteds pushes the human race beyond its evolutionary boundaries – with dire consequences.

For fan’s of Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games, Veronica Roth’s Divergent series.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s