In honor of Suicide Prevention month, I started thinking about how I portray mental illness in my stories. I plan to have at least one character with a mental disorder in each book–usually more than one, but at least one up front and center and very visible as part of the main cast.
But I want to do more than that. I want to put resources in the hands of teens who need them–resources they can use in real life, not just examples from my imagination.
This idea probably won’t fly with a published novel, but I thought it would be kind of cool to put a little blurb at the end of each book FROM the visible MI character talking about their experiences with their disorder and advocating for certain resources. It’s definitely a fourth wall break but I already wrote Rylin’s from INNATE as a writing exercise so I figured I’d share it here.
For a bit of background, Rylin is a doctor married to my MC’s guardian/mentor character. He was drawn into this world of gods, magic, and war while his husband grew up in it. I’ve really enjoyed writing Rylin as the funny man to Chak’s straight man. He is playful, upbeat, and totally devoted to his marriage and to keeping the twins safe.
Hey kids, Rylin Lacheart here. I talked about it a little bit in the story you just read, but I wanted you to know: I have bipolar disorder, type 1.
Why would I want you to know? Well, because you probably live in a world where it’s hard to be open about mental illness. And this means that you likely know people with a mental illness who are afraid or uncomfortable talking about it (and you might be one of them). I want to show you that people with mental disorders can lead average/”normal” lives or strange and exciting lives (like mine).
Now, I’m lucky enough to live in a futuristic, fictional world where I have access to technology like medicuffs and medication patches, so it’s pretty easy for me to stick to my meds. Those are the backbone of my treatment. Without medication, I have a really hard time remaining stable. If you’re taking meds, you might need to use an alarm, a special pill box, or your own method to keep track of when and what to take.
But it isn’t just medications. I need to take care of myself and do this in a couple of different ways: Balanced lifestyle and support.
For me, a balanced lifestyle means regular exercise and not eating junk food all the time. I took up dancing as a form of exercise and, while I never could quite get Chak to keep it up after the acid incident, I still enjoy it. I think anyone will find that regular exercise and eating well improves your life.
If I eat well, get enough sleep, and pay attention to my mood and thoughts, I can often catch an oncoming episode before my tech!
I also have a strong support system in the people around me. Mine comes in the form of my spouse but yours might be from a parent, sibling, significant other, or friends. When I have someone I can talk to about the dark things I think or feel when depressed, or someone to anchor me when I’m manic, I’m less likely to get myself into trouble. And, when I feel ashamed or I want to hurt myself, I have someone to keep me safe (even if that means recommending professional help).
It’s really hard to find the balance in your life and build that support system. While you’re working on it, or when it’s not enough, here are some resources to get you through those really tough times (you know the ones I mean).
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
End the Stigma: ProjectHelping.org