I cannot stress this topic enough, but let me just put this out there so any authors wanting me to read their novels know this: If you romanticize mental illness, making it seem like love will cure it, then you can pretty much guarantee that I will be DNF-ing your novel, giving it one star, and telling everyone I know and their grandparents not to read your book.
And those are just some of my thoughts.
While I will have examples in this post, I thought I’d also say that a lot of this will be me talking and saying why doing this shit is wrong. For clarification, I have been living with depression, anxiety, and a few other mental illnesses, for about four years now. I will only be touching on depression and anxiety though, as those are the two mental illnesses that I see most often romanticized/eroticized.
My first example is a book that I know a few people with mental illnesses like, and a lot of others adore, but I’m still going to include it because one, it’s my blog, and two, not everyone has the same experiences. Notice the emphasis on that. Not everyone has the same experiences. I was hurt, others weren’t. Just take those who were hurt by this one into account before proclaiming this to be an amazing novel.
We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson left such a bitter taste in my mouth when I finished it that I still taste it once more whenever I see that cover.
I love the cover. I really do. But what’s inside can, and has been, harmful.
If you don’t know what We Are the Ants is about, here’s a Goodreads link, and my half-assed effort at summarizing.
WATA is about a young man who’s boyfriend just committed suicide. Even worse, is that he has been abducted by aliens for a year, and everyone in his class bullies him about it. The aliens expect the young man to push a button to save the entire world, but the trick is that he actually has to want to save the world.
While I was reading WATA, I wasn’t very impressed, but when a new love interest came in, it became pretty obvious what was going to happen. Henry’s (the young man) depression gets steadily worse throughout the book, caused by a combination of his previous boyfriend’s suicide, the pressure to save the world, and the bullying at school, until his relationship with the LI is secured. Then, all of a sudden, he fights his depression like a boss. There’s a few bumps in the road, but his relationship with the LI is ultimately solidified, and Henry no longer feels depressed. He knows that he wants to save the world.
You know what I, a queer depressed teen got from this? I got that if I feel in love, which is kind of hard because I’m also ace-spec and aro-spec, that my depression would be magically cured. I’m on antidepressants and I’m not cured. People who think this can kindly fuck off. You don’t “cure” depression.
Then there’s also the suicide blaming. Like?? No? Stop it?? Henry’s previous boyfriend’s suicide was constantly blamed on multiple people. It switched every other chapter, jumping from Henry to his other friend, to the other kids at school. Do I have to explain why suicide blaming is wrong?
There were a lot of other things that bothered me, primarily the blithe way rape was treated. I hated how the attempted rape seemed to just….be pushed aside. They recognize that it happened, but not how it can affect someone.
My second example is a book two, so I’ll chat about both books for a second. I’ll say right here that I love the anxiety representation in the first book, but the character I’ll be primarily talking about was in both, and I hated him in both books.
Consider by Kristy Acevedo had some of the best anxiety rep I have ever seen. She basically got my experience with anxiety perfectly. However, the MC, Alex, has a boyfriend whom I just LOATHE. Dominick says shit like: “Plus, I love being stuck with you. Too bad you need drugs to be stuck with me. Stop worrying.”
Dominick basically laughs and is personally offended over Alex’s anxiety. He’s offended that she takes anxiety medication to help manage it. I was basically rooting for this guy to get his ass beat throughout the entire novel. Otherwise, I really enjoyed Consider. It’s Contribute, the sequel, that I have a problem with.
Once again, said by Dominick: “I never knew anxiety was so physical. It reminded me of my father before he died. Seeing you go through that only made me love you more. I had no idea it was that bad”
WHY ARE YOU COMPARING YOUR GIRLFRIEND’S ANXIETY TO YOUR FUCKING DAD??? There’s SO MANY problems with just that sentence, and I wanted to scream when I read it. Basically, something that made Alex uncomfortable and anxiety inducing is hot to her boyfriend.
Then there’s also him being a pervert: he makes an exact replica of Alex but increased the boob size. And she’s a hologram so she can’t have panic attacks.
I would also like to say that there are two gay characters in this book, and that one of them dies and the other disappears off page.
My problems with both of these books are basically the relationships. They are romanticized (WATA), and when they’re not, they’re eroticized (Contribute). Depression and anxiety aren’t something that can be cured with love, and its certainly not something that makes someone hot and fuckable.
Like I said earlier, these are mostly my own opinions, but just because I say that doesn’t discount what I have felt. When writing mentally ill characters, authors have to take care to not write these relationships that could possibly be harmful.
8 thoughts on “Romanticizing and Eroticizing Mental Illnesses”
Oh geeesh, Shaun David Hutchinson does a different thing with rape and also a missing boyfriend in another book, and it really made me feel awful.
I absolutely hate people who think that romance or sex can cure mental illness. That is not how it works.
UGH why do people always praise him so highly? Can I ask what book? And yes, it’s not that hard to understand that love doesn’t cure anything.
At The Edge of the Universe. I can send your my review draft if you want to check out the issues I had.
Please! I keep hearing people say amazing things about that one as well.
10000% agree with you on all of these points. While I haven’t read either of these books (and I’m not planning to) I have read various iterations of the ‘love cures mental illness’ idea. I think people underestimate what a powerful and damaging narrative this can be – when I got into my first relationship I honestly thought that my mental illness would go away, and it was earth-shattering when it didn’t go away, but actually got worse. Thank you for your thoughts <3
I’m so sorry that that happened. Authors who wrote these kinds of stories need to understand how these can affect people.
absolutely love this article. i’d actually been working on a draft of my own story and this article helped me figure out why it was wrong on so many levels.
on an opposite note, are there any books about mental illness that are good? i’ve been looking for a new book.
I personally haven’t found many that are accurate to my experiences. There was some representation in a novel called CONSIDER, but the sequel kind of ruined the entire series for me. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help, but thank you!
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