This is a short essay I wrote for a final paper in my class. I hope you all enjoy it! Mental illness is something that I have experienced and is very close to my heart. That’s why I decided to explore this topic.
“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” Bill Clinton said these words when talking about the stigmatization of mental illness that is so prominent all over the United States. Mental illness is becoming more recognized than ever before, but people are still not very accepting of such an issue. There is so much shame that surrounds those who have to live with mental illnesses. People are not transparent enough about these internal struggles and as a nation, there is not enough talk about it either. Education is key when thinking about how to de-stigmatize mental illness. Being able to educate young children is more important now than ever before. An extremely important tool that should be used to do this is more depictions of mental illness in children’s and young adult literature. Making sure the depictions are accurate is also imperative. By using literature as a tool, children can learn about such an important topic by reading about their favorite characters and relating to them as well.
A lot of picturebooks will be theorized to have characters that deal with mental illnesses and more specifically depression. It is very rare in a picturebook, though, that an author will explicitly state and name the mental illness. The naming of mental illnesses usually is saved for older children and young adult books (Church, 2016). However, naming the mental illness can be extremely important when educating children about mental illness through the use of books that they love. Authors normally do not do this because they are afraid it will turn the reader off from it or parents will deem that book as inappropriate for their child (Church, 2016). This is especially concerning in this day and age though. Everyone should be educated on mental illnesses as one in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year (MIND, 2016). This education should be starting young. It is not enough to have pictures of sad characters and other characters telling them to “Be happy!”
When aging up from picturebooks looking at young adult literature there is definitely a lot of literature on suicide and depression (Buckley, 2016). This is a breathe of fresh air and so great for adolescents that struggle with mental illness. Having these books can help teens think about their out struggles and abilities and how to cope with the stresses of life. They can do this by reading about a character that is relatable to them and then having extreme amount of empathy for those characters. With this relateability, teens are able to find ways to help themselves because of the way their favorite characters did. Contemporary realistic fiction young adult books specifically can talk about the idea of coping with stress and put a strong emphasis on resilient characters that overcome their struggles and get the help that they need. This is why accurate representations and depicting healthy ways of coping with mental illnesses is so critical in children’s and young adult literature.
Not only do children need to be educated on mental illnesses through books, but teachers, parents, and librarians should as well. They need to be just as educated to answer questions that children may have because they are the ones that are interacting with the children and teens on a regular basis. Children are bound to have questions about why a character in a book had something called depression or schizophrenia and they will want to know what those big words mean. Giving adults the education to properly and accurately answer these questions will only benefit the younger generations. It is also crucial so that these adults can provide children and teens with the resources that they need if they are struggling with something that a character they read about it. Having librarians educated can also mean that they can look for stereotypes and myths that are portrayed in books and be able to address the concerns. Some common stereotypes to look for would be: mental illness is a sign of weakness, it is a sin, a person can think positively or make lifestyle choices that will completely erase their mental illnesses, and/or mentally ill people are dangerous (Jensen, 2015). Being able to address these stereotypes could ease a lot of anxiety on the child or adolescents part because they may think all of these stereotypes are accurate in their lives so they can and should not talk about their internal struggles.
Literature is an extremely powerful tool that can and should be used in the classroom to educate and teach young children and adolescents about struggles that may people experience in their lifetimes and proper ways to deal with and cope with these struggles. Without education kids can have completely inaccurate depictions on what mental illness is and then go through life blind to what they might go through or what someone very close to them is going through. In one student essay, a kid wrote, “People with disabilities are depressed even if they act happy,” and another said, “Individuals with disabilities are scary and dangerous and need constant supervision” (Menchetti, Plattos, & Carroll, 2011). These negative and inaccurate descriptions are extremely concerning. Educating children on mental illness and wellness through literature could be all the difference when changing these preconceived notions that children and adolescents have because of what society has told them.
Having accurate depictions of mental illness in children’s and young adult literature is so important in today’s world. It is an issue that there is a lot of knowledge about, but also a lot of myths and stigma that surround the issue. Having these depictions in characters in book could be an extremely beneficial tool in educating the youngest generations about mental illness, how to cope with it, overcome it, and help friends or family members that are dealing with is as well. Staring this education in picturebook and all throughout young adult literature could help with a better understanding of mental illness. This is why portraying characters with mental illness in children’s literature could lead to a better understanding and less stigmatization of it for all ages.
Buckley, K. (Feb. 2, 2016). Reality scoop: promoting mental wellness with YA literature. YALSA
Blog. Retrieved from: http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2016/02/02/reality-scoop-january
Church, I. (2016). The picture of madness – visual narratives of female mental illness in
contemporary children’s literature. Children’s Literature in Education.
Jensen, K. (Nov. 18, 2015). Tackling mental health through YA lit. School Library Journal.
Menchetti, B., Plattos, G., & Carroll, P. S. (2011). The impact of fiction on perceptions of
disability. The Alan Review, 39(1).
MIND, the Mental Health Charity. Accessed 12/19/2016 from