The Anti-Stigma Thesaurus: Rewriting the Language of Mental Health

The Anti-Stigma Thesaurus: Rewriting the Language of Mental Health

Despite how the nursery rhyme goes, words can hurt. They can also be used to reinforce mental health stigma, particularly in crime fiction. Words are powerful - and "with great power comes great responsibility". The longevity and influence of words can be epitomised in that one quotation, first used centuries ago and popularised by a comic book adaptation. Words are the building blocks of the writer's craft. They are our weapons and our tools. We can fuss for hours over the right choice of word to fit a sentence, a tone, a character. When it comes to fighting mental health stigma, we need to choose our weapons carefully. The last time I wrote about this, I merely complained that writers should do better. This time, I'm going to do better. The following words and phrases are all in common usage but have the potential to be harmful to people with mental health problems and reinforce stigma about them. I have here presented alternatives that...
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Hello 2016

Hello 2016

Happy 2016! It's that time of year again. The one in which I tell you about the exciting things that are happening in my writing life right now, and we can anticipate them with glee together. New Amy Lane novels The wait is almost over! Captcha Thief, book three in The Amy Lane Mysteries, will land on 4th February. And that's not all! The fourth book in the series Terror 404 is due for publication in August. As these will be out in paperback (paperback!), keep your eyes peeled for bookplates and swag and giveaways as the due date nears - the newsletter and Facebook Page are always the first to know. If you can't wait that long, check out the Amy Lane short story Car Hacker. CrimeFest 2016 After the success of last year's CrimeFest, I will be returning to Bristol this May to do more panels and sign aforementioned books. I'm really excited to part of this festival again and meet so many enthusiastic...
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INTERVIEW: Ruth F Hunt on Mental Health, Disability and The Single Feather

INTERVIEW: Ruth F Hunt on Mental Health, Disability and The Single Feather

At Freudian Script, we explore the relationship between mental health and fiction. Our guest Ruth F Hunt has written a compelling debut novel in The Single Feather, tackling the topics of disability and mental health without shying away from the realities. What led you to explore issues of mental health and disability in The Single Feather? Since becoming disabled at the age of eighteen, and having Bipolar as well, I’ve been very aware of the missing voices in novels, with a real lack of disabled characters in adult fiction, being a particular problem. As well as having worked with adults with complex needs in a social services department, I’ve also worked in mental health, with my last role being a Trustee with a large mental health charity. So along with this experience in my personal and working life, I was very aware that in the past few years, hate crime towards people with disabilities has risen and cuts to benefits have disproportionately affected...
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#KillerFest15 – Mental Health and Crime

#KillerFest15 – Mental Health and Crime

I was privileged to take part in Killer Reads and Waterstones' Killer Crime Festival 2015 with a Twitter chat about mental health and crime fiction. There were some great questions and an ongoing discussion afterwards about crime novels featuring protagonists with mental health problems. Please share your recommendations in the comments. [View the story "#KillerFest15 - Mental Health and Crime" on Storify] If you enjoyed the chat, why not check out #psywrite, the monthly Twitter chat about mental health in fiction. We're taking at break for March but we will be back for your questions in April! And if you have any detailed queries for your writing, please get in touch - I'm always happy to help with accurate and sensitive mental health portrayals....
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Freudian Script: How Common Are Mental Health Problems?

Freudian Script: How Common Are Mental Health Problems?

If you've visited this blog before, you'll know I like to bang on about the accurate and sensitive portrayal of common mental health problems. You may have noticed that I don't find many good portrayals - in fact, I sometimes find it hard to find any examples at all. Mental health has a visibility problem. Is that because it's not all that common to have a mental illness? Or is it because we like to hide from things that scare us and that we find hard to understand? Of course, some mental health problems are overrepresented. If you watch enough crime drama, you might be forgiven for thinking that one-quarter of the population of New York City is a psychopath - and the other three-quarters victims. To clear things up, here are a list of mental health statistics, comparing common mental health problems that you might see in fiction to reality in the UK. I've included nods to other health problems, to give...
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Myths about Depression and Suicide

Myths about Depression and Suicide

Given the recent tragic death of Robin Williams and the resulting surge in media attention, I thought I would bust a few myths about depression and suicide. EDIT 13/08/14: Amended to capture some of the ugliness that the UK media vomited out this morning 1) "What did he have to be depressed about? He had everything!" / "Oh, that particular problem is why he had depression and killed himself, is it? That explains everything!" Money does not buy good health. Close, loving relationships do not cure depression. The adoration of millions is not a NICE-approved treatment for any mental health problem, including addiction and mood disorders.  Wealthy, loved and famous people still get ill. They have heart attacks, break their limbs and die of cancer. Why is it so shocking that they should also have mental health problems? Conversely, debt does not cause depression. Addiction does not lead to violence. These things can contribute to someone's illness, but depression is a disease. It is not...
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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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