Saturday 15 October 2016

Mental Health Conditions ARE Real Problems - And Books Need To Realise It

(This post discusses mental illness, negative representations and perpetuation of stigma around mental health, depression, anorexia, and suicide.)

Don't you hate it when you're reading a fairly awesome book, and then there's some ignorant and hurtful mental health representation just thrown in there?

You're there, enjoying yourself, and suddenly there's an ignorant portrayal of mental illness which does nothing but perpetuate the stigma around these conditions.

girl under umbrella pic

OK, let me rewind and explain what brought this on:

I've just finished reading We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (UK - US.)

Overall, this is a great contemporary novel about our point-of-view protagonist, Darling, growing up in Zimbabwe, and then moving to America.

It's not a perfect book - but then, what is? I was enjoying it though - but there was a chapter which left me with a sour taste.

What was my problem with it? Well, dearest nerdlets, I'll tell you.

In this particular chapter, a few chapters before the end, there is a rich, white, American girl called Kate. Darling does some cleaning work for her father.

Kate tried to kill herself not long before the two girls meet. Kate is starving herself because she thinks she's fat, even though she's super skinny.

Kate is clearly anorexic, and depressed.

girl pic

Darling's reaction? Well, Darling's reaction is to laugh at her. Because according to Darling, Kate has no 'real' problems, and is therefore being ridiculous.

Let me make this clear: mental illness is not directly linked to what money you have. Mental illness does not care how comfortable your living conditions are.

Mental illness is not something you can get over simply by being more grateful for what you have, and neither is it a result of being ungrateful.

Mental illness can happen to anyone. At any time.

sad girl art pic

This depiction of Kate as nothing more than a silly, spoilt, rich girl is harmful. You don't get to judge her - no matter who you are.

We are given no background on Kate, and no rectification of these implications about her. She appears only in this chapter, and then is gone, not to be mentioned again.

Her pain - and the pain of millions of people like her - are used simply as a way of saying that American kids are ungrateful and complain too much, when other people have it a lot worse.

Yes, there are people who are worse off financially etc. than Kate. She has a safe home, a fridge full of food (as Darling points out,) and an overly-spoilt little dog which has its own wardrobe.

But pointing these things out to people with mental health problems does nothing but make them feel worse.


You can be a millionaire with a mental illness. You can be in poverty and have a mental illness (and certainly, I'm not denying that there are often higher rates of mental health problems amongst those with lower incomes.)

Being unwell - being ill - with a potentially fatal illness (depression can kill; anorexia can kill,) is NOT BEING UNGRATEFUL.

And it's time people started to realise that.

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  1. I totally get it! it's just like a disease like cancer, it could happen to anyone! I hate it when people shame others for their walks of life and dismiss their problems.

    1. I'm so glad there are awesome people like you in the world Em! :) <3 <3 <3

    2. Awww thank you! You're pretty great too :) <3

  2. At first I wasn't sure where you were going with this blog post, and then I realised what had happened in the book and I have to admit that's really despicable. To say that she has no real problems and laugh... that's so terrible and inconsiderate D:

    1. I felt like I had to give the background in order for it to make sense in context - I'm not denying that the character of Darling had a lot of problems, but Kate's sole purpose in this book seems to be to point out how ungrateful and silly people with mental health problems are when they have so much going for them. Argh!

      Thanks for the comment Liv :)


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