Mental Health Monday

Depression hurts.

Anybody who’s seen a Cymbalta commercial knows that.

And who does it hurt?


Hmmm, makes a compelling argument for having your character suffer from it, don’t it?

Problem: People with depression don’t have a lot of motivation. They spend a lot of time inside, in pajamas or sweats, blinds drawn, covers over their head. They don’t express a lot of affect (facial expression). They don’t really like to talk and if they do, it’s slow.

Oh boy. No emotional displays. No dialogue. No action.

Can you see your plot thread unraveling as you read this?

All right, gang. So how do we make depression “exciting?” Enthralling? Something the reader would want to read?

Okay, so I must say that I by no means wish to glamorize mental illness or make it sound happy, happy, joy, joy. It’s not. Depression is a hard thing to cope with. But for those who are interested in capturing it in the written word, there are several ways to draw interest and make it compelling.

Depression can be a bit of a chameleon. It can be dynamic. It can be emotionally turbulent.

See, tension and interest already!

Agitated depression is a great option (for writing, my friends, not to have). The person suffering from it would be irritable and unable to find comfort in anything. PLUS, they’d be INCREDIBLY emotionally sensitive to even the slightest rejection. If someone–a love interest maybe?–has to cancel dinner, the person just may spiral down to disaster level proportions.

Instant drama!

Psychotic depression is also an option (for your character). That’s when someone is so severely depressed that they experience delusions and/or auditory or visual hallucinations (hear voices or see things that aren’t really there). The voices are usually mood congruent, meaning they take on the quality of how the person feels.

For example, the person could hear a voice telling them they are no good, they’re worthless, and why not just kill yourself and get it over with? Or, a person may believe their insides are literally rotting or a demon is influencing their behavior.

That could lead to some interesting twists.

Anxiety is generally a large component of depression as well. Anyone who’s anxious will have racing thoughts, they’d be in a constant state of tension, emotional turmoil, and angst.

And don’t forget substance use. Anyone who’s experiencing symptoms of mental illness could turn to alcohol and/or illicit substances (drugs) to numb their pain. By adding this feature to your character, you’ve immediately opened the door to subplots of how they get their drug, which bar they hang out in, and what sorts of legal troubles they find themselves in.

I hope this information is helpful, writerly peeps. Let me know what questions you have about lending authenticity to your characters’ mental health!

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT intended for medical advice or treatment. This is SOLELY for the purposes of writing.

Be sure to check out Lydia’s blog for Medical Monday.

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8 comments on “Mental Health Monday

  1. Thanks for the post! It’s always good to find ways to torment your characters. 😉

  2. Nisa says:

    Just don’t draw out the depression too long because it doesn’t make the character very endearing… My two cents, of course. No one seems to like to name names, but I’m thinking of Bella in New Moon. I had to skip a third of the book because it just was TOO much. (To be fair, the book had other things I liked about it.)

  3. lydia K says:

    You’re right, it’s hard to read about it and keep wanting to read without getting depressed yourself! thanks for the post!

  4. Lynn Rush says:

    GREAT Post. You’re right. If done right, (not too long, like Nisa said) it could really add to tension and dynamics, for sure!


  5. Jana Hutcheson says:

    Interesting post! I don’t have any depressed characters in my current WIP, but you never know when you’ll need information like this! Thanks!

  6. Kat says:

    Dual diagnosis! My favorite, er…uh… 🙂

  7. Great post! It’s interesting to see the layers of depression.

  8. Hey, brilliant article, I have personal experience with scars and it is great to see people discussing the best ways to minimise their effects on your life.

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