Open Mic Mondays: Mental Illness in Fiction

(Image taken from this article at Fantasy Faction)

Mallory Tam got in contact with me last week about Open Mike Mondays. It’s a pleasure to present the piece she sent me below.


I struggled with how to open this, turning it around in my mind over and over. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be clever, be smart, be witty, or something else entirely. Finally, I just decided on being blunt. I decided to open my brain and let the words spill out because that seems like the most appropriate way to speak on this topic.

As it stands, the topic at hand happens to be mental illness.

The relationship that is shared between mental illness and fiction of all kinds is an odd one. Sometimes you find that people hit it right on the nose, that it’s so accurate that it makes you sick. Sometimes it’s the opposite, you read something and you want to throttle it with how utterly wrong it is.

Fiction will do that though, it can and will manipulate anything and everything for the sake of the story. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it’s not.

I struggle with mental illness, though I won’t go into details as to what variety. I read stories depicting my illness and others and it can, more often than not, frustrate the ever living hell out of me. I want to read something close to my experience, I want to read something that captures the essence of what I live with.

But then I’ll find that thing, that gem of a story, and I’ll feel myself be dizzy with the familiarity. I will know that someone did their research, that they delved into the mind of someone with my personal thought processes and I’ll wonder how they captured it so well without having the illness themselves. Or, I’ll start looking around to see if they do happen to have said illness.

It’s a tricky situation. On one level, I want so desperately to read more stories about my experience. On the other, seeing it captured so vividly is hard sometimes. It’s looking at yourself in a mirror, facing what you are, and it’s occasionally terrifying.

This is why I think psychological horror is something so effective. Whether you have a mental illness or not, it’s hard to stare in that mirror and see something happen to someone who thinks, acts, speaks, like you.

It an be a trigger for some, a way to dive deep into the story for others and a combination of the two for others still. It’s a fine line but one that I think is worth exploring.

There are many ways one can go about trying to capture the thought processes of someone with a mental illness. They can read autobiographies, both the good ones and the not-so-good ones can teach you something because everyone’s experience is different. Speaking to people who are willing to talk to you and give insights and possibly even proof read your fiction for you is an excellent way of getting what you need as well

Reading up on the illness for a professional standpoint won’t hurt either but I expect that most people will do that. The trick there is to know that not every aspect of the illness is shown in every person. The mental landscape is as wide and varied as anything else in the human experience. Although there are some common traits, it’s rare that it lines up perfectly with the given definitions.

The most important thing though? The key to doing it right? Is remembering that the person is more than their illness. They are a being that is beyond the maladies their brain contains. They laugh at things, they cry at things, they have opinions and feeling sand thoughts that are not always driven by their illness. The worst thing you can do is forget that, it’s going to leave your story ringing hollow.

No matter how you tackle it, as a creator or a consumer, it’s a hard subject to approach but it’s one that’s worth approaching. Showing the diversity that’s out there, telling someone they aren’t alone, or maybe getting a scare out of them, they’re all worthy pursuits and worth taking the chance.

Mallory’s just launched a new blog, which can be found here: please go and take a look.


There is, as I write this, one slot left in Open Mike Mondays. So, if you want it, now’s the time. Email me at

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