1. jackmajor

    jackmajor New Member

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    how to write a protagonist with mental illness in a respectful manner

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by jackmajor, Aug 8, 2019.

    Hello friends I have a question you see in my story the main character suffers from anxiety and depression unfortunately I've been struggling on how to depict it so I was wondering how do you depict a character with mental illness in a respectful manner
     
  2. Kane Jiang

    Kane Jiang Member Supporter

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    Did you know, depressing as a word didn't appear until the 1700's or 1800's? Depression existed since the 14th or 15th century, but I think that was due to a different meaning, like a depression in the earth.

    You can try using ancient terminology when referring to anxiety or depression like "low spirits" or "sunken mood" that would just not go away and try to put yourself in the shoes of a person from the 1500's or before. Psychology isn't as black and white as math or physics, so I don't think a proper diagnosis is always guaranteed. If your character isn't diagnosed with anything yet, you can keep the readers from knowing that until he or she is.
     
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  3. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

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    Why are you doing it? That's always the first question I ask.

    That aside, how to write this respectfully:

    1. Accept that not everyone will be happy with your portrayal regardless of what you do.

    2. Once you've come to terms with that, research.
     
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  4. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Thy rod and thy Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Good advice by both above, especially in not labeling the character's condition. I've asked similar questions and triggered firestorms of debate over what qualified as Diagnosis X or not. What you need to do is figure out what you need your character to be, then go searching for a diagnosis that fits those conditions. Once you have that, you can research what else either goes along with or never goes along with it. Then write your character, but don't, do not mention the official DSM term for it because that'll set people looking for inconsistencies and questioning your qualifications etc.

    Basically, I just realized I'm saying "Show, don't tell."

     
  5. Lawless

    Lawless Active Member

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    IMHO, it starts with your inner attitude to that character. Is it someone you can think and feel with?

    Do you feel he's a likeable human being, but he has some unusual characteristics which make his life difficult and which some other people may call abnormal? In that case you can write pretty much anything you want because you yourself are respecting him.

    Or do you see him as a weirdo, but you are reluctant to write about him the way you see him because you're afraid that some freak activists will get angry at you?

    That would make a big difference.
     
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  6. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I agree with this completely. Unless your character is going to be treated for a particular condition, you CAN just portray him/her as they are, and let readers draw their own conclusions. Of course if they are being treated, especially if the treatment itself is part of your story, then fair enough. You'll probably need to mention the diagnosis (which may or may not be correct, depending on your story.). But if not....
     
  7. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I found the best way was to look up the symptoms and then modify the character's behaviour to match. Write the plot as normal but then referencing back to the core symptoms every time the character does something. Does it match or contradict?
     
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  8. badgerjelly

    badgerjelly Contributor Contributor

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    You’ve been sad right? Imagine being REALLY sad for no reason, being so damn down even though everything in your life is going swimmingly - in simplistic terms that is depression (of course there are varying degrees).

    You’ve been stressed and tense right? Imagine being stressed and tense about the most trivial details of your life, of worrying about things so much that you can barely think straight - in simplistic terms that is severe anxiety (and again, there are different degrees fo suffering).

    Note: these are emotional traits that are beneficial (being anxious or depressed), but the illness is due to these aspects overwhelming other drives. Ideally mild depression alerts us to a need to change/eat/exercise and deal refocus our attentions, whilst anxiety (in mild forms) means we are possibly obscuring fears we need to attend to. Think about the positive use of negative emotions as well as the negative effect of so-called ‘positive’ emotions. That thought should allow you to express more depth to these problems.
     
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  9. grayj0265

    grayj0265 Member

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    First, make sure you do your research. Make sure that your i's are dotted and t's are crossed. Second, you came to the right place, in regards of writing a story. You can post an excerpt of it, and see what others have to say. I would put on the top of the story what it is that you are looking for and then edit from there. Third, since this person is going to have some issues, show them going through the issues. You can have your charters react to it. However if there is going to be a narrator in the story, don't have the narrator comment on it if you are afraid of being disrespectful. Finally be honest. Most people read a story and find it compelling not because everything is perfect in that persons life, but because the person's life is a mess.
     
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  10. RobinLC

    RobinLC Member

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    Do you know anyone who has a mental illness? Besides myself, everyone in my family pretty much has a mental illness. Today my husband is struggling with anxiety. I let him know of a job event that I found last minute (No time to prepare already sets him off). I convince him to go (sometimes can take me hours to do). He finally goes, and he can't get their website to load to complete the application (I take a half hour to convince him not to give up) and he is finally sitting there waiting (makes him irritable and jumpy) for an interview.

    Now anyone may be a bit anxious about an interview. But someone with severe anxiety like my husband is fighting to just stay calm and get through something we may not give two thoughts about.
     
  11. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think it depends on your POV somewhat. I wrote a short story in first person where my narrator is somewhat unreliable. She possibly suffers from a condition, but she never comes out and admits it. However, it's something readers pick up on more than my narrator. I tried to treat the subject matter very carefully, but when I workshopped this story (back in school) it upset some people who have dealt with this condition. However, another person suffering from this condition absolutely loved the story. I wasn't sure how I felt about what I had written. For awhile, I just sat on my story. Well, this story is my latest sale. Approach is everything. And some people probably won't feel like you've done a great job capturing and personalizing your story or character to really bring out the "truth." But that doesn't mean it's bad or you did something wrong, and it doesn't mean at all that your story won't sell.
     
  12. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Senior Member

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    First you need to have an understanding of the illness. Some people who have never suffered with it or experienced it in anyone else thinks if you're not on the brink of suicide then you're not truly depressed. Depression can be brought on by a situation, circumstance or an event. After y Dad's stroke he became deeply depressed because of his mobility issues, but once he'd accepted it and learned to cope in his new limitations, his depression went away. My mother has suffered with depression since childhood and had no events in her life that could have caused it. So you need to do some thorough research and read accounts of others people not just a list of symptoms. Ask people if you know anyone who has suffered it.

    If you are still finding it hard then it's best not to. I don't see how anyone would be offended with what you write because depression affects everyone differently. You could just display the physical and mental symptoms but never give it a name.
     
  13. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    I would be careful with this. Not everyone's experience with an issue will bear all the hallmarks of a standard diagnosis. At least not all of the time, anyway. People have good days and bad days; if you've ever known anyone with Alzheimers or dementia, you'll know how jarring this can be. Displaying a character as a laundry list of psychoses may show you took care in researching the illness, but are neglecting them as a person. An individual with their own wants, needs, struggles, and victories -- no matter how minor, short lived, or pyrrhic they may be.
     
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