Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Discussion: Mental Illness in YA

Hello my lovelies- today I want to talk about something that's a little different from the typical post around here.

So today we're going to talk about mental illness in the media. Recently, one of my peers committed suicide. I've known him since I was in second grade. And sure, I don't see much of him anymore, considering my life has taken me elsewhere, but the fact still remains that he was someone who's always been there. When the news reached me that he'd killed himself, I was shocked. And it really, truly upset me. There was no way for me to fix this problem. And the truth was that this had really happened- to someone I knew- and it's happening everyday, all over the world.  That thought overwhelmed me. 

So that's what sparked this discussion post. I want to discuss the underrepresentation of mental illnesses in the media, and why it's not acceptable. 

Most people simply don't understand what mental illnesses are. A mental illness isn't just being "really sad", "really anxious", "down in the dumps" "insecure", "unhappy with yourself" or any of those ridiculous things. A mental illness is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. Exercising, spending time with friends, or buying new clothes won't just heal someone. It takes more than that. But, truthfully, the people who believe these things aren't at fault. They simply just don't know. Let me repeat that- they simply just don't know. So one of the easiest ways for us to raise awareness for mental illnesses is through educating people about them. Accurately educating people about them. And that's where books and the media kick in.

When we read about a main character with, say, cancer, we get begin to truly understand what it's like to deal with cancer, because we're inside the main character's head. Before The Fault in Our Stars swept through, I think a lot of people who'd never been exposed to the true horrors of cancer only ever heard about the survival stories, the donations, or the fundraisers. After the Fault in Our Stars, a lot of young adults suddenly understood that not all cancer stories have a happy ending. It can be similar with mental illnesses. If we expose young readers to main characters with mental illnesses, they will finish the book understanding mental illnesses so much more. Because, when you read a novel, you get inside the main character's head. You feel what they feel, you hurt when they hurt. So if we want to spread awareness for what it's really like to have social anxiety, writing characters with anxiety is a great way to do it.

But what's the big deal- why do we care? Well, 1 in 5 teenagers ages 13-18 suffer from a mental illness. Wherever you are in the world, there is somebody you know suffering from some type of mental illness. Just because no one's informed you of it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. However, most teenagers turn to their peers when experiencing suicidal thoughts, and we should be concerned about the peers of these young people suffering from mental illness. By teaching them what it means to have a mental illness, we are preparing them for what could come down the road later. Plus, identifying signs of depression can make a huge difference- in their life or somebody else's. Nothing could be worse than a suicidal teenager confessing to a peer what was happening, and that peer not knowing what to do about it. We just need to educate them.

But the sad thing is that we aren't taking advantage of the media to educate teenagers on mental illness. Did anyone see the video recently uploaded on Jesse's channel? If not, a topic was shouted out, and the first player to find a book that fit the topic won that round. The first topic was dead parents, and all four players immediately grabbed books. The second topic was mental illness, and all four players stood in front of Christine's shelves, staring until one of them picked up Allegiant. Why is it so difficult to find books that include mental illness? Why is it so underrepresented in Young Adult Literature? Whatever the answers to those questions are, the truth remains that we need more representation of mental illness in YA, and it's not happening.


Thanks for reading through my whole post (rant?) here! I feel like I maybe didn't get my point across as clearly as I wanted to, but hopefully you get where I'm coming from. What are your thoughts on this subject? Comment below!

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