Sticks and Stones: Mental Health Stigma and Crime Fiction

Crime fiction is entertainment. Writers' primary goal is to entertain. But what is the impact of the written word on the most vulnerable people in society? Does crime fiction contribute to mental health stigma? What is stigma? The term stigma refers to the negative stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination directed towards a group - in this case, people with mental health problems. For example, the stereotype "schizophrenics are psycho killers" may lead to attitudes like "all mental patients should be locked up" and "I don't want a nutter around my children" and actions like avoiding people with mental health problems, opposing mental health facilities in their neighbourhoods, and beating a man to death. Stigma is not just about public attitudes to mental health. People with mental health problems can direct these negative attitudes towards themselves - self-stigma: "It's my fault I'm depressed - I'm not strong enough to cope." There is also institutional or structural stigma, where organisations discriminate against individuals, such as quietly...
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Freudian Script: Inside a Psychiatric Ward

The madhouse. Loony bin. Asylum. Psychiatric wards are called many things, but what is it really like inside one? Freudian Script continues to give writers an up-close-and-personal view of mental health services in the UK and this week's post concentrates on the inside of mental health unit. History of the psychiatric ward The first "psychiatric wards" were the asylums of the 18th century. These were private houses where your relatives could send you because...well, because they felt like it, really. There was no regulation and the owners didn't ask many questions, provided you could pay. The first mental health legislation in the UK - The Madhouses Act 1774, for the legal nerds - was to regulate these houses, license and inspect them. In many ways, mental health services have moved on from this point - and in some ways they haven't. Who is admitted to a psychiatric ward? So, why do people come to a psychiatric ward? In the old days of asylums and institutionalisation,...
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INTERVIEW: Lucy V Hay on Teen Mental Health and Jasmine’s Story

For this week's Freudian Script, Lucy V Hay (aka the infamous script guru Bang2write) talks frankly about her struggles with her mental health as a teenager and how that contributed to the latest book in her THE DECISION series, JASMINE'S STORY. You drew on your personal experiences in THE DECISION: LIZZIE’S STORY to write about teen pregnancy. How did your experiences shape JASMINE’S STORY? Being popular is a huge part of growing up, especially for girls. I was not popular and I felt it every day, but I was not hugely unpopular either, so I got through school relatively unscathed... I got the usual taunts about being ugly or fat or whatever, but probably no worse than anyone else. I was very much The Outsider at school and felt very “detached” from it all, as if I was watching myself and others there. This was underlined by the fact I attended a school out of catchment where I lived; there was no...
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Freudian Script: Police and Crime

Police officers - not the most likely custodians of society's mental health. However, they are frequently called out to mental health emergencies and they play an uneasy role alongside the mental health profession in enforcing mental health law. In commemoration of National Crime Reading Month, I'm going to explore the often-complex relationship between the police, mental health professionals and people suffering from mental health problems. Please note, I am neither a lawyer nor a police officer. These examples are mostly drawn from my own experience and attempt to offer insight for writers who wish to write about these topics. Why involve the police? Several situations may require a police presence in the context of a mental health problem. A few examples include: > A disturbed man in the street, running into traffic. > A desperate woman on a bridge, threatening to jump > A 999 call from a concerned mother whose son with schizophrenia has gone missing > A woman accused of assault says the demons made her...
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Freudian Script: The Mental Health Act

So, you want to write about mental health. By checking out the previous series of Freudian Script, which concentrated on specific conditions - like depression, psychopathy and autistic spectrum disorders - the writer can get to grips with a sensitive and accurate portrayal of a mental health problem. But what about the experience of living with a mental health problem in the UK? How do mental health services function? What happens when you have an urgent problem one morning? How about at midnight? What goes on inside a mental health hospital? Who comes to see you if you can't leave the house? And what about the professionals who work in mental health? Who are they and what do they do? How do they interact with other areas of medicine, social workers, and emergency services? The next series of Freudian Script concentrates on these aspects of mental health. Because I live and work in the UK, this will focus on the British experience of mental...
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INTERVIEW: Tom Riley talks Leonardo da Vinci with ASD

As a bonus feature, Katherine Fowler returns to the blog with a very special guest... Interview with a Maestro: Tom Riley on playing Leonardo da Vinci on the autistic spectrum After my guest post on Autistic Spectrum Disorders, I was bowled over by the positive responses from readers, and even more staggered when Tom Riley, who plays Leonardo da Vinci on Da Vinci’s Demons, saw the post and confirmed our speculations about Leonardo being on the spectrum. Tom generously agreed to answer a few questions about portraying a character on the autistic spectrum. Not only did he agree, readily and enthusiastically, but he has provided some incredibly thoughtful and insightful comments. So thank you, Tom, and I hope you all find the following Q&A as fascinating as I did... Where did the inspiration for writing/playing Leonardo on the spectrum come from? As I was researching his life before we kicked off the first season - reading both speculative biographies, and deconstructions of his...
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Freudian Script: Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia: a mental health problem that everyone's heard of and yet receives little attention in media or movies. In this week's Freudian Script, we will explore the definition of agoraphobia, its connection to panic attacks and other mental health problems, notable examples and writing tips on how to portray agoraphobia sensitively and accurately. DISCLAIMER: This blog post is designed for writers of fiction. If you are concerned that you or someone you know has symptoms of mental health problems, please see your doctor. What is agoraphobia? From the Greek "fear of the market/gathering place", agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder characterised by fear, anxiety and panic in public places, mostly open or crowded spaces, resulting in avoidance. The phobia part is similar to any other phobia - spiders, heights, small spaces - because a phobia is an exaggerated anxiety response leading to avoidance. I'm emphasising avoidance here because it's a really key part of agoraphobia. The definition hinges on the anxious person's splitting of the world...
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Freudian Script: Stalking, Erotomania and Othello Syndrome

Stalking, Erotomania and Othello Syndrome - When Love Goes Wrong. Trigger Warning: This post contains discussion of stalking and sexual violence This week on Freudian Script, I am going to talk about two disorders beloved of crime fiction writers and close to every stalker's heart. We're going on a little tour of stalking because that's the most common manifestation of these disorders in fiction. I will talk through the definitions of stalking, erotomania and Othello Syndrome, infamous examples in fiction, and how you can write better love-sick stalkers. DISCLAIMER: This blog post is designed for writers of fiction. If you are concerned that you or someone you know has symptoms of mental health problems, please see your doctor. If you think you are being stalked, please contact the police. What is stalking? Stalking has no specific mental health or legal definition in the UK, but it's generally considered to be unwanted and/or obsessive attention towards an individual. It can take many forms, including physical...
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Freudian Script: Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Today we have a special Guest Post from Katherine Fowler, my good friend and go-to girl for Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) - take it away, Katherine! It is a great honour to be asked to do a guest post here, on ASD (aka my favourite topic in all the world). So, without further ado... DISCLAIMER: This blog post is designed for writers of fiction. If you are concerned that you or someone you know has symptoms of mental health problems, please see your doctor. What is ASD? ASD, or autism spectrum disorders, cover a wide range of developmental disorders, ranging from full-blown classic autism, to the catchily named PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified). As the word "spectrum" suggests, there is a huge difference between those at the far ends of the scale. And, with such a diverse range of symptoms, even those placed in the same spot along the scale may come across very differently. For simplicity’s sake, let’s divide the spectrum into...
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Freudian Script: The Psychopath

The Psychopath - favourite of Hollywood and tabloid journalism alike. This week's Freudian Script attempts to clarify the definition of psychopathy, identify people wrongly called psychopaths, and uncover how you can write better psychopaths. DISCLAIMER: This blog post is designed for writers of fiction. If you are concerned that you or someone you know has symptoms of mental health problems, please see your doctor instead of doing a test on the internet. What is a psychopath? Unlike other conditions I have detailed in this series, psychopathy is a murky concept at best and is often the subject of controversy. I will therefore digress into the details of classification to shed some light on the problem. Psychopathy is considered a personality disorder, often sub-typed under either anti-social or dissocial personality disorder - depending on your classification system. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), baby of the World Health Organisation and preferred by UK psychiatrists, bundles the term in under dissocial personality disorder. The Diagnostic and...
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