Shattering Stigmas – Dungeons & Dragons & Depression

Happy Tuesday, friends! As you all know it by now, I am thrilled to introduce you to another blog post for the amazing 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 am welcoming the lovely Kat, writing about fantasy and mental health in fantasy, most especially the lack of it all. A very eloquent and very important post to remember! Feel free to share your thoughts on the topic in comments, we would love to hear from you!

Welcome to YA Fantasy – Here there be dragons a main character who is probably royalty, an elf assassin, or both. In order to take back the crown, he or she will be forced to team up with a loyal bodyguard, an ex-betrothed, or a crooked thief (all of whom are extremely attractive, because of course they are). There will be intrigue, subterfuge, and most likely a rebellion. Oh, and there will most definitely be a love triangle.

Battles will be fought, side-characters will be killed off (because we can’t have the MC die, now can we?), and in the end, the evil that threatened to overthrow the Magical Realm™ will be defeated. Our triumphant hero will ride off into the sunset, fair hair billowing majestically in the wind (L’Oréal, because you’re worth it), and everyone will live happily ever after. We could even throw in a sparkly rainbow for dramatic effect.

But why is that? Why is it that when the war ends, we are left with sparkly rainbows instead of an Elf princess-slash-assassin who suffers from PTSD? Why is our valiant hero not visiting the Fantasy-world equivalent of a psychiatrist? And another thing, why is there no such thing as a Magical Realm™ psychiatrist anyways? Where are all the therapists, the psychologists, and the counselors?

In recent years, there has been an upsurge of violence in the YA Fantasy genre. “Dark” and “Gritty” have become popular marketing strategies and enticing book blurbs. In every book, the stakes are high, but the body count is higher. War, death, rebellion – these are not only the staples of this genre, but the perfect breeding grounds for mental illness. By all accounts, YA Fantasy should be the literary champion of mental illness representation, but for some reason, it isn’t. This baffles me because not only does it perpetuate the idea that war and death have no emotional consequences, but it also insinuates that you can only be a hero if you look or act or even feel a certain way.

Here’s a public service announcement: the fact that a character has to fight both the evil villain and their own mind should make him or her even more heroic, not less. Because let me tell you, being a prisoner in the castle dungeon is one thing (though I haven’t experienced that yet), but being the prisoner of your mind is quite another (this I have). Both are hard, but for different reasons. And I want to see those reasons explored by more authors of every genre.

You know what else I want to see? I want to see more mental illness representation, and I mean real representation, not just the stuff that is sometimes tossed around as a plot device. If an author claims that the loyal bodyguard is depressed about having to take somebody’s life, I don’t want to see those feelings disappear as soon as he is successfully characterized as a more compassionate and enticing love interest. If Princess [insert name here] is traumatized by her father’s murder at the hands of the Demon Lord, I don’t want to see that drop off the face of the earth as soon as it stops being necessary to the plot.

Why don’t I want to see it? Because mental illness doesn’t work that way. Oh how I wish my own depression did, though – fading into the background for the more exciting plot points of my life to take precedence. Just vanishing the moment I wish it to. On my worst days, my depression makes me feel debilitated, overwhelmed, and utterly worthless…I feel less than human. More like the Demon Lord than the Princess.

Depression, and other mental illnesses, are not plot devices or gimmicks. They don’t just disappear when it’s convenient, no matter how much we want them too. They are debilitating, they are real, and they make us feel utterly alone. But that’s the thing about representation, isn’t it? It lets us know that we aren’t alone. When a character slays dragons, both the external and internal kinds, it gives those of us who struggle the hope that we can too.




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

35 thoughts on “Shattering Stigmas – Dungeons & Dragons & Depression

  1. Can you imagine The Chosen One actually dealing with some level of an Anxiety Disorder? That would be beautiful to read.

    I think the closest thing I’ve read in fantasy when it comes to mental illness is Rand from WoT dealing with slowly going crazy (hearing voices, etc). It isn’t really mental illness, though, it’s more of a magic induced stuff, but it’s still super interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Good things to think about.

    I’m writing about a character right now who is struggling with depression because he lost the love of his life (she’s not dead, he just forgot she existed). I think he probably should get better when he finds her.

    But I’ll also be writing a character that kills someone (he’s trying to stop an assassination). You’ve given me something to think about. I was going to give him nightmares because of what he went through when he was 11 (the king tried to kill him) but I never really thought to give him lasting effects from killing this other guy. In the second book there’s going to be a war so I can imagine things will get worse for a while.

    Historically, there were no therapists or anxiety reducing drugs. But that doesn’t mean that characters shouldn’t be affected by their actions more. This is definitely something I want to be aware of when I write my NaNoWriMo novel this year. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. HOW ARE YOU SO ELOQUENT AND EXPRESSIVE AND FUNNY AT THE SAME TIME?? what is this superpower and how do i attain it???

    Seriously girl, this is so so so so so well-presented. Mental illness representation in fantasy sounds like the greatest thing ever. And i think it’ll also help the readers connect with the characters in a way they couldnt before.

    like sure i cant take down the evil queen and nab myself the handsome secret prince in an afternoon without breaking a sweat or stopping to sleep for an entire week, but i sure can relate to crippling anxiety and dark thoughts

    👏👏 this is such a fantastic post, thank you so much for writing it!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. OH MY GOSHHHHHH!!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH, MAY! *sobs from happiness* This comment really means a lot to me, especially since I think I rewrote this article like…five times. Haha. I wanted to get it just right, since this topic is so important to me. But seriously, thank you 🙂 You made my day!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I love this post, and I’d love to see more mental illness representation in fantasy books. I mainly read fantasy books but when I think of the stories I’ve read with incredible mental health rep they’re mainly contemporary books, which is a shame. Like Kat said it makes no sense that in all these dark and gritty fantasy stories that we’re seeing on the shelves these days there’s no repercussions for any of the characters after the war is over you know?
    Just because there’s magic and dragons doesn’t mean the characters shouldn’t struggle with what they’re going through.
    Great post Kat. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love this! I don’t read a huge amount of fantasy, but it seems terrible that the representation is so… samey. And yes, people not responding to trauma in a way that feels realistic is a huge issue for me as well – it helps perpetuate the idea that we should all just ‘bounce back’ from the bad things that happen to us, when the truth is its much more complicated than that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Lydia! And I totally agree – the idea that everyone should all just suck it up, bounce back, and tough it out is harmful. Some people can do that – but some people cannot, and it’s often not due to any fault of their own. And yeah, fantasy that is a good way of describing the representation in Fantasy – samey. I think we are slowly making progress, but not nearly as fast as Contemporary is. Thanks again! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Oh wow, this is an absolutely BEAUTIFUL post and I’m so glad it was featured! I agree so much — I feel like a big thing about the book community is that we’ve gotten so desensitized to reading about murder and killing and all that dark stuff we find in fantasy. But for the characters living that — it’s unlikely that they aren’t affected. I mean, there are characters like Kaz Brekker who ripped someone’s eyeball out without feeling regret, but he also has PTSD and I think that’s something really important about his story. I really love the point about how a lot of things (like grief over a loved one) goes away when it’s “no longer useful” to the plot, because it truly is neither realistic nor good representation. I love this post so much!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. MAYYYY THANK YOU SO MUCH! This comment means EVERYTHING TO ME. And I totally agree that we’ve become desensitized to violence. I am currently reading, “Daughter of the Pirate King,” and I’m really enjoying it. But there is a part where the MC says that she’s killed hundreds of people, and as I read it, I just glided over it the first time. Like nbd. But then, I thought about that for a second, and it was kind of shocking/disturbing. Not only because this MC character has killed so many people, but that I found that fact to be whatever. It’s really telling, I think. Anyways, thanks again for reading. It means the world 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Loved this post! I’ve actually read few fantasy books that represented Mental Illness but yeah they’re very rare in YA fantasy. Recently, I’ve found a NA fantasy romance series that heavily deals with mental illness and I absolutely loved it. If you want to check out that series it’s called Foolish Kingdoms By Natalia Jaster.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Such an important discussion to have! I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t thought about this before. I’ve read some fantasy books where the MC experiences anxiety and depression over past events, but in most cases you’re totally right that it magically disappears eventually because of, well, sometimes the power of love. Following the example of some contemporaries, more fantasy books should refrain from presenting a cure-all solution when it comes to mental illness. Let family, friends and love interest be supportive and certainly a help, but not a magical immediate cure.

    Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I am so honored that I was able to write this post and participate in Shattering Stigmas event! Thanks for this wonderful opportunity, Marie! You’re truly the best. And thanks to everyone for all the wonderful comments and compliments. You all make my heart so happy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Loved this post 🙂 I haven’t thought about it until now, but you bring up a good point- why isn’t there more mental health representation in YA fantasy? I am glad that we are seeing more characters with mental illness in YA contemporary, but I agree that it should extend to other genres as well. When depression affects 1 in 4 people, it would make sense to have some MCs who have a mental illness such as depression and still be able to save the world 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Wow! I love this post and found myself agreeing with it SO MUCH. I don’t get why fantasy hasn’t been the forerunner of mental health rep. Just because you’re writing a book set in another world doesn’t mean people aren’t going to have suddenly no mental health issues. So THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS AMAZING POST.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. You’re so right about the PTSD. Actually, this brings me back to our (well, mine and Marie’s!) buddy read – one reason I really loved Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom was because I was basically slathered in PTSD. The people had tough lives, and it REFLECTED. The reason I usually hate reading YA fantasy is because it’s just NOT. REALISTIC. ABOUT. THIS. Well, okay, this is ONE of the reasons xD but a big and valid one!

    Great, wonderful post!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Wow, what a fantastic post, Kat 🙂 Loved your write up. I am not a huge YA fantasy fan but I do know about the lack of mental illness representation in YA fantasy. And yes, I totally agree, there should be more books based on mental illness. I remember reading Children of Blood and Bone and thinking how depressed and traumatised the Prince (sorry I forgot the name, I am too bad with character names :P) was since his childhood because of his father’s actions. I think that would have been a nice case of mental illness rep.
    Mental illness is such an important topic these days and I do believe that it should be reflected in every genre.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I totally and completely agree! There should be more mental illness in fantasy especially since it will be more heroic having to deal with the confines of mental illness plus the fantastical elements. Also I hate mental illness being used as a plot device. I have read one of those books before and it just drove me insane. I cannot handle it! Hoping that authors will start putting more mental health in their fantasy stories especially as war and death is not just something there. It can destroy you so readers should have a first look as to how war and death really affects them as a human being more than a fantastical hero! Great post!


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