mental health tropes and how to avoid them: part 2

Hello all! This is a small series that I’ve been doing over the past couple of months – you can check out the first instalment of mental health tropes and how to avoid them here (I talk about the trope of the curative power of love). Today I’m going to be tackling another trope that I really don’t like:

  • The book has to end with the character being ‘cured’

Now, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with recovery narratives – sometimes they can be really inspiring. They can show that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that recovery is possible. What I don’t like is the idea that mental health narratives absolutely have to end in recovery. Because to me, that’s just not realistic, and it kind-of invalidates the idea that mental health is a journey, with ups and downs that sometimes just can’t be predicted.

This is one of the reasons why I like memoirs so much. Because the story isn’t over yet, and often the writer talks about their ongoing struggles with mental health. Some of my favourite mental health memoirs include:

Mad Girl by Byrony Gordon | The Stranger on the Bridge by Jonny Benjamin | Marbles by Ellen Forney

In Mad Girl in particular, Bryony Gordon talks about her struggles with mental health whilst she was writing the book, which I thought was a really great.

Some tips for writers looking to write realistic mental health include:

  1. If it is a recovery narrative, it is perhaps an idea to have little blips here and there throughout the story. I personally have never met someone who has a mental illness and just gets better without encountering dips in their mental health whilst they’re recovering.
  2. Recovery isn’t easy. In Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger the main character just suddenly stops being agoraphobic through no effort on her part – it just happens. (Needless to say, I did not enjoy this book.) For most people, recovery is extremely difficult. A lot of therapy involves re-wiring your thought patterns and beliefs about the world. It’s a lot more than just ‘cheer up’ or ‘go outside’.

What do you think about this trope? Are there any others that you’d like to see me discuss? Let me know!


11 thoughts on “mental health tropes and how to avoid them: part 2

  1. thebluemoonarchives says:

    Most of the books that I have read about mental health, don’t have this recovery cliché. And I really love them for it. All the Bright Places, Turtles all the Way Down, Em and the Big Hoom to make some of them. And I can also see how recovery magically due to the romantic partner can be annoying and unrealistic.


  2. Lewington_Katie says:

    Oh Lord, yes! This is one of the things that drives me crackers! I remember last summer I read about four books with mental health narratives, and the protagonists were cured by the end by either being in an inpatient hospital, or they fell in love. There is always going to be blips in recovery.


  3. Lydia Tewkesbury says:

    So true. All of it. It’s so irresponsible to present mental health as something that has an easy fix.

    Have you ever watched Crazy Ex Girlfriend? It’s a show I am obseeeessssed with, and a lot of the past season was about this exact thing. After a couple seasons of knowing that she was struggling with some kind of mental health issue, but not knowing what it actually was, she gets her diagnosis in season 3, comes to the usual wrongheaded assumption that this where all her problems will be solved and then finds out, that no, actually it’s waaay more complicated than that. If you haven’t watched it, I know the name sounds terrible but that’s kind of the point – they aren’t just being ignorant.


  4. Lily @ Sprinkles of Dreams says:

    I agree with you – not every book should end with a “happy ending” in which the character is “cured”! Sometimes a mental illness is only part of your life for a little while, but it can also be a lifelong battle, and it’s so important that there are books that portray that.


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