Shattering Stigmas – How can books combat the stigmas around mental illness

Happy Monday, friends, and welcome to another day in the wonderful Shattering Stigmas, an event that will take place from October 6th to October 20th here on Drizzle & Hurricane Books.

Three years ago, Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight launched the first Shattering Stigmas, a blogging event dedicated to posts about mental illness to address and challenge the stigmas against it. Through book reviews, discussion posts and lists, Shattering Stigmas has continued conversations around mental illness for the past three years.

This year, for the Shattering Stigmas 4.0, you will be able to find incredible guest posts on blogs from all four hosts of the event: Taylor, Ben, Madalyn, Kitty and Marie.

You can also enter our INTERNATIONAL (Book Depository) giveaway! TWO winners will be able to win the Mental Health book of their choice at the end of this event. Don’t forget to ENTER HERE!

Today, I have the amazing Marta guest posting, sharing her thoughts about mental illness and how books can help in fighting the stigmas about mental illness. I hope you will love her post as much as I do and please, feel free to share your thoughts about it in the comments below!

Trigger warnings: this post talks about anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, not in a descriptive way, but deals with its stigmas.

Hey, everyone! I’m Marta @ The Cursed Books and today I’ll talk a bit about mental health, stigma and how books can help combat the stigma.

I want to thank Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books for giving me the opportunity to speak on a subject that’s very important to me and to Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight for creating Shattering Stigmas, which is an amazing blog event that’s meant to raise awareness on mental health and on the stigmas surrounding mental illness.

You might be aware of the fact that I’m a psychology student, that helped me greatly by giving me a theoretical base about most mental disorders and in my second year of college, I had a very practice-oriented course called Psychopathology, where we got to watch some clinical interviews and observe how patients with different illnesses behave.

While all these courses were very informative, I couldn’t help, but be very frustrated with the cold approach of everything. How we never talked about the stigmas, how we never talked about how mental health is probably the least funded area in our health system, how psychiatrists and psychotherapists still use very old methods in their practices despite the high amount of research showing that those methods aren’t effective. We never talked about how anxiety and depression have become some of the most frequent illnesses of our decade, yet instead of admitting that our society makes us sick, we keep placing the blame on teenagers and young adults for being too fragile, for being snowflakes.

I can’t even begin to talk about the stigmas around people that suffer from schizophrenia – how everyone thinks that they are dangerous and violent (despite how few those cases are and those only happening when they are not taking their treatment). Sadly, these harmful stereotypes keep on appearing in media, in the movies we watch, in the books we read and they are so dangerous for these people who are already going through so much.

Considering how big the stigma is, it was still never mentioned in class. Never. Not even once. Instead we talked about the symptoms, the treatments (not so much because therapists aren’t allowed in Romania to give prescriptions) and we learnt how to write study cases. Which in my opinion, wasn’t very useful since there are students in my year that despite choosing this major have some huge prejudices when it comes to mental health. I still consider I’ve learnt the most about mental health from the internet, from people that were brave enough to share their stories, from people that had no reason to educate me, but still they did, through their articles, their blog posts, through their tweets, they did more than my education system could.

That’s kind of a scary thing, don’t you think? But I think it’s just shows why we still have so much stigma concerning mental illnesses.

And stigma is very dangerous because it’s making people very reluctant to accept the fact that they might be ill and even more reluctant to seek help or take medication. “There are 450 million people worldwide who suffer from mental health conditions, the majority (60 percent) do not receive any form of care, with 90 percent of people in developing countries receiving no form of care.” (original source).

So, why aren’t we speaking out more? Why are we still acting like mental health is something to be ashamed of? Why are we still behaving like it’s not an illness like any other? Why don’t we do more?

As I’ve mentioned before, media is a great factor in all this. Media influences us so much more than we’d like to admit. There are so many myths on mental illnesses that have been ingrained in our brains through movies, books, video games. So, why don’t we start using those means in a responsible and thoughtful way in order to educate people on mental health, in order to support people with mental disorders and make them feel more accepted?

How can books help combat the stigma? Why do we need them?

First of all, we need them because representation is so important, people that struggle with mental illnesses are discriminated, bullied and they present a higher risk of committing suicide. We need books that tell mentally ill people that they are valid, that they are not broken, that there’s nothing wrong with them. We need books that normalize treatment and therapy. We need to call out on those books that give magical treatments like love. We especially need own-voices books because people with mental illnesses are highly capable of telling their own stories, we just don’t let their voices be heard most of the times. We don’t raise them up enough, we don’t promote them enough.

Representation is so essential with mental illnesses because stigma makes people less inclined to speak out about what they’re going through, to seek support from their family or peers or even the internet (because they are afraid of being misunderstood, which is a very valid fear), because of that, many people with mental illnesses end up isolating themselves. Characters like them, going through similar experiences, can help them see how they are not alone, we shouldn’t underestimate the great comfort they can find in those books.

Second of all, I like to think most stigma around mental illnesses comes from people not being informed enough. I feel like most of the books on mental health are in the non-fiction genre, they are written by specialized people from the medical field or the psychology field. Therefore, these books are full of terminology that might not be accessible to everyone or even if it is, some people don’t read non-fiction, so those books still don’t reach the people that need this information the most.

I also think non-fiction is a genre which makes it harder to empathize (unless it’s a memoir), thus not changing the fact that people might understand the theoretical aspects of mental illnesses, but not be considerate about how these disorders affect the people and their lives. Fiction makes it so much easier to empathize with the characters, to understand their struggles, it’s a great way to learn about mental illnesses and it can be accessible to everyone, even to children.

I think it’s very important that non-fiction books are more inclusive and that fiction books get more exposure. And that’s why I’m going to end this post by recommending you a few fiction books on mental health.

  1. Made You Up and Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia – Zappia is really great at writing about mental health, I only read Eliza and Her Monsters, which has anxiety representation and it was very on point – I especially loved how Eliza actually got help, she went to therapy in the end. It was very well done. Made You Up is on my TBR and from what I’ve heard, the protagonist, Alex has schizophrenia and the rep is also very good.

  2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – this one remains a classic for me, I think it’s a book for everyone. Charlie is dealing with a lot, he shows symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and depression due to experiencing abuse. It’s one of the first books that I’ve read that focused on mental health and it definitely stayed with me for some time now.

  3. Saving Francesca by Melina Marrchetta – Francesca’s mother has depression and besides the rep being very realistic, we also get to see how it affects the whole family.

  4. I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman – anxiety rep, panic attacks. This book is everything and I will never not love it. It’s amazing.

  5. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – PTSD rep done very well, I adore the details, for example, Kaz’s touch aversion. Leigh Bardugo is exceptional, as always.

  6. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – social anxiety rep. This book is very relatable to me, from the college struggle to being introverted and finding some solace in fandom. It’s amazing how much I related to Cath’s personality. It was the first time I considered I might struggle with mild anxiety and I’m very thankful for this book for making me aware that my struggles were valid.

  7. Turtles All The Way Down by John Green – a book that I haven’t read yet, but I trust Marie a lot and she has a review here where she makes it sound absolutely amazing. From what I’m aware of, this one has OCD rep and it’s own voices.


Find Marta here: Blog, Goodreads, Twitter, Instagram, Bloglovin’

Posted by

Book blogger, travel blogger, writer. 📚 |🌍 | 💞 Writing & Communications Graduate. French. Living on love, wanderlust and ya books.

41 thoughts on “Shattering Stigmas – How can books combat the stigmas around mental illness

  1. This is such an important post! I completely agree that these stigmas need to be discussed more frequently and in a wider variety of settings (classrooms, book clubs, online, etc.) in order to be broken down. Otherwise, they’ll just stay rooted in our society like they are now. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Holly! ❤
      I think projects like this one, that are meant to raise awareness help people understand that these stigmas shouldn’t exist and we definitely need more of them!
      I’m glad you liked my post!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. THIS POST IS AMAZING!!! (Marie you’re great for taking on this project and Marta you’re amazing because THIS POST IS SO GOOD)

    I’ve read most books on the list actually!! Turtles is so so so accurate at portraying mental illness sometimes it’s hard to read. It just feels like reading a panic attack. But I’m glad I read it because all the things I’ve learned about OCD were so valuable. And all of it without having to constantly pester people that struggle with OCD and probably find it irritating to always talk about it.

    Sometimes damaging stereotypes just make their way into books and I WANT TO SHOUT. Because media influences people as much as people influence media AND UGHHHH.

    I wish more books with good eating disorder rep were written though 😦 – I only

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Ioana and you’re absolutely right about Marie, she’s amazing for taking on this project and working so much on it as well! ❤
      I really need to read Turtles because people are raving about it, but I'm very concerned about what my thoughts on a John Green's book are going to be since I haven't enjoyed anything else from him besides The Fault in Our Stars (don't kill me, Marie, if you see this).
      I agree that damaging stereotypes make their way in fiction, that's why own-voices books are the best kinds to fight against stigmas, in my opinion. But thoughtful and well-researched rep is a thing and I hope to see more of it! ❤
      I've heard really good things about Tiny Pretty Things and Paperweight and from what I've heard they both have eating disorder rep, I haven't read them yet, so I can't tell for sure if it's good rep though 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. (please marie don’t kill me and marta we’re wholesome beans and we’ll feed you chocolate pls) I didn’t enjoy any John Green books either and I still loved Turtles so I recommend it regardless 😂!!

        I have both those book on my TBR but alas you know how hard I fight with book depository so just buying them will be a journey! I hope the rep is good and not harmful too

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I won’t kill you ahahah (but I’ll take chocolate ANYTIME). Even if I am a big John Green fan, I have to say that I understand that his writing is not for everyone. Still, I’d heavily recommend Turtles, Marta, it’s a brilliant #ownvoices book about OCD and mental health and it’s compelling and heartbreaking and I loved it very, very much 😛 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! It’s so important that not only people with mental disorders themselves, but everyone is better informed. More people need to realise that mentall illness is just as serious as a physical illness. I totally agree that fiction can be a good way to teach people about this! Someone close to me suffered from despression, and books helped me to understand her better.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Indeed, it’s very important that people that don’t suffer from mental illnesses are also very informed as discriminations and stigmas would decrease significantly if that was the case. I’m happy to hear that fiction helped you understand someone suffering from depression better, fiction helps so much with empathy ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Fangirl is a great book. I’m not so bad that I lived off of protein bars because I didn’t want to ask anybody where the dining hall was, but I don’t like calling people on the phone, like businesses and stuff… I’m always afraid they’re going to ask me something I don’t know the answer to.

    When Elephants Fly is a good recent release that deals with schizophrenia.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m also very bad at calling people on the phone, especially if it’s a person with authority. I get very nervous 🙈 And I feel like the fear of being asked something you don’t know the answer to is very legit, especially if the businesses are busy and impatient with you. But it’s totally alright to not know stuff, they should be patient and respond politely to your questions. ❤
      I’ll have to check it out, thanks for the recommendation!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This post is amazing and true…definitely adding these books to my the list and bumping up the John Green books to my reading list…this post needs to get to more people to sensitize them in my country depression is something that isn’t still known and associated with other things

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, I’m so glad you liked my post! ❤ I relate so much to being frustrated about the situation in your country, mental health awareness seems to never be on anybody’s mind. I wish there were more projects and funds being given to this field.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Gah, this bothered me about psychology education too, back when I was still taking classes. They spent more time on teaching you methods and outdated ideas for the “historical” aspect, but they barely touched upon modern day mental health, and certainly not the stigmas surrounding them. And I don’t understand those mental health workers who refuse to give up methods that are frankly more harm than help. This is why I’m SO HAPPY that there are more books nowadays that tackle mental illness. It IS so important that we get better, less problematic representation, and that we continue to center conversations on the topic. I think people who don’t “get” MIs just need to be educated and to READ. Some of my personal faves: Starfish (social anxiety), When We Collided and For a Muse of Fire (bipolar disorder), and Play On (depression/suicide of a loved one). I can’t wait for there to be even MORE rep, especially from marginalized authors, because intersections are important.

    Lovely post, Marta!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m so happy to hear that I’m not the only one feeling like this about my field, I’ve always wondered if that was an issue with the education system in my country. But apparently not. And yes, methodology and the history of psychology seem to always come up when there are so many more actual things that we could focus on. But fiction books make up for what’s happening with my studies. Starfish has always been on my TBR and I’m glad that you also loved it. I haven’t heard of the others, but I’ll check then out right now. Thank you for your recommendations!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is SUCH an amazing post! Thank you so much for stating it so eloquently and really hitting the nail on the head. I find it so sad that as our world progresses, there are still so many stigmas and stereotypes associated with mental health, not to mention the whole ‘shame’ aspect of it!

    It’s so heartbreaking to see because the people who are suffering from the mental illness also have to suffer from the ignorance of others who might shame and invalidate their struggles.

    But just having a platform like this and speaking out about it, is so amazing and inspiring, thank you, both to Marie and Marta for putting this together 💗💗 And the recommendations are an excellent touch! So many great books there with representation that are sure to start some dialogue about mental illness.

    Excellent post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, May! ❤
      Yes, it’s very sad that we still don’t understand that mental disorders should be seen and treated as any other disorder. Society makes it even harder for people that suffer from mental illnesses to seek help since they are very well aware of the stigmas and discrimination that they’ll have to deal with.
      Anything can help raise awareness, we must talk about it more and create safe spaces for people that want to speak about their struggles. I think that’s the most important thing ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m not a psychology student but I definitely get the whole mental illness isn’t something we discuss thing. I mean for me personally mental illness has always been something hard to discuss but I feel like if it was something more openly spoke about I’d be more comfortable talking about it. Maybe representation in books is part of it, but when it comes to things like work and with my family I’d rather lie and say I had a stomach bug or the flu than admit I needed some time away from it all because of my mental health.
    These are all amazing book recs though. Six of Crows is one of the only fantasy books with good mental health rep, another reason it’s an all-time favourite of mine. 😀
    Great post. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with you, Beth! ❤ I think it's a subject that we don't openly talk about, in general, but I wanted to highlight how badly we try to not talk about it – even in classes where we really should. Ah, I'm sorry that you feel like it, but I understand where you're coming from, even if you do admit that you're not feeling well due to mental health reasons, people might try to minimize your symptoms or try to find excuses or not want to talk about it and it's not okay because we all go through periods where our mental health isn't good. And we should have the freedom to talk about it and not be judged for it.
      Thank you very much! ❤

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah sometimes with mental health it seems like people who don’t suffer from mental illness don’t get how bad it can be, and in my opinion it makes it harder to speak to them about it because without them minimizing symptoms like you said.
        That’s all right, and thanks. 🙂 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, I love this post so much, Marta! As a psychology student, you have such a unique perspective on this topic and I loved reading about it. It was really eye opening to learn that certain things are not focused on very heavily in the curriculum, such as stereotypes and how they are false. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! You are awesome 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Kat! ❤
      I'm glad that you loved reading my post, I've been frustrated with the curriculum ever since I've started and even more frustrated with how some of my teachers perceive mental illnesses. Some of them have such bad perceptions that they shouldn't be let to work with anybody in therapy. But sadly, the system is underfunded, our education isn't as rigorous as it should be and this reflects on the fact that stigmas still exist and are very frequent too.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. This is an incredible post, and I’m really glad I got to read Marta’s words through your blog, Marie! I definitely agree that books are an invaluable tool in the fight against eradicating stigma; believe it or not, they helped me come to terms with my own mental health and allowed me to feel a little less alone when it comes to depression and anxiety. It’s so important for people – young people, especially – to read literature that represents their illnesses well, that tells them there’s nothing wrong with them and that there is still hope.

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower is my absolute favorite book for this very reason – it was the first book I read as a young teen that told me, “Hey, depression and PTSD is a thing. It’s valid, and you’re valid too.”

    I loved this post so much. ♥️

    ~ Aimal @ Bookshelves & Paperbacks

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much, Aimal! ❤
      I think books are very helpful at making us be more aware of how valid our struggles are, as seeing a character have similar struggles and sympathize with said character makes us realize how hard we are on ourselves. Absolutely agreed! Rep is so important!
      The Perks is also my first book I've read that focused on mental health and was very transparent about it too, I will never stop recommending the book because it was a real game-changer.
      Thank youuuu, I'm so happy you liked it!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. This is such an amazing, thoughtful and clear post! Thank you so much for writing this! I agree that the practice of psychotherapy is so outdated and there is so much room for improvement and I also agree that Fiction is an amazing place to discuss, represent and build empathy around mental illness. I loved your recommendations!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Loved this post, Marta 🙂 I agree that there are so many stigmas related to mental health because of the lack of information about this topic. I have to admit, I wasn’t aware much about mental illness until I read Turtles All the Way Down. I was never aware that mental illness can be so vast.
    I believe, my country is one of the developing countries where mental illness is still a taboo and we need to work in that field more and more.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I had no idea that Six Of Crows had a mental illness in there. I have heard a lot about this book lately. It’s right that there is still a lot of stigma about mental illness and mostly it’s due to people not understanding it. I have always had problems with anxiety but I don’t feel like I can talk about it, I’ve never had proper help and don’t think my colleagues would understand. My manager certainly wouldn’t. Also I don’t want people to think or look differently at me, I hint sometimes but I’ve never been one to share, I bottle it up I’m very bad. A lot of different reasons. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and telling us about these books

    Liked by 1 person

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