Over the last few years I have been writing the first book in a fantasy novel series (current title Feeding Jasmine Valentine). It has two main protagonists, and one of those protagonists has severe anxiety and other mental health issues. The more I write her the more I think about if I am doing justice to her.
One of the really problematic things about writing a character who struggles with their mental health is that there is a really troubling legacy of how mental illness has been portrayed fictionally in the past. For example people with mental illness are often portrayed as dangerous, uncontrollably violent, as an ‘evil genius’, or as incoherent and unpredictable (in what are often quite predictable ways).
There are a number of harmful stereotypes that were easy enough for me to avoid. I have not written my character, Julianne, as a dangerous uncontrollable psychopath or as someone who is inherently prone to doing unpredictable and damaging things to other people. She is not someone who does ‘mad’ eccentric things just for the sake of making a point about her mental health. I’ve tried very hard to give her experiences that are authentic, and have drawn from aspects of my own mental health at times to do so.
The main stereotype I am worried about falling foul of is that of ‘the unreliable narrator.’ Characters that have a mental health problem are often portrayed as inherently unreliable, and thus their version of events is not to be trusted. Over the last few years I have worked closed with many people who have struggles with their mental health and have found this not to be the case at all. The majority of the people I know give very clear accounts of their own experiences. However some of those experiences can be difficult to hear, and it may feel easier to the listener to doubt what is being said.
My concern with my writing is that it will automatically be assumed that she is unreliable, when this is not my intention at all. Any ideas about how to tackle this would be welcome.
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