From television shows to novels, mental health has become a favorite topic for discussion and debate. Following the recent controversy with Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, based on the novel of the same name, people have risen to criticize its portrayal of mental illness. While it is now more openly talked about, many representations seem to miss the mark when it comes to being realistic, and the measures taken to address these issues.
That is why we have come up with a short list of characters who do portray depression accurately, and you will find that they each took steps to better their conditions. These characters will encourage you to consider seeking help, whether it be visiting a counselor or online therapy. In no particular order, here are three well-written characters from similarly acclaimed books.
Will Grayson (Will Grayson, Will Grayson)
Penned by YA favorites John Green and David Levithan, the book’s narrative is split between two characters who are both named Will Grayson. To distinguish the two apart, the first is presented as Will Grayson, writing with proper punctuation and capitalization. The second Grayson writes without any capital letters.
In the novel, Will Grayson is a heterosexual teenager trying to get by without drawing too much attention to himself. On the other hand, WillGraysonis a homosexual teen diagnosed with depression. At some point in the novel, the two characters meet, which leaves a tremendous mark on both of the boys’ lives.
The character of will Grayson paints an excellent portrait of what depression is like on a day-to-day basis. He offers up good commentary about his struggles vs. how others may normalize depression and mental health.
“Coping with minority stress does not tell the whole story, though, in the lives of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, or transgender individuals. There’s way more to each person’s life than that: Camaraderie, pride, strength, and sense of belonging are found in community, friendship, and the love of other LGBTQ people and their supportive allies,” writes Brad Brenner, PhD.
Craig Gilner (It is kind of A Funny Story)
This 2006 novel by Ned Vizzini may sound familiar as it was later adapted into a film of the same name starring Keir Gilchrist and Emma Roberts.
Narrator Craig Gilner is a teenage boy who studies in a prestigious high school after previously winning admission. He becomes overwhelmed by everything, with stress manifesting itself as poor sleeping habits, an eating disorder, and suicidal thoughts. Eventually, Craig ends up calling a suicide hotline and admits himself to a psychiatric hospital. He eventually comes to terms with his disorder, confronting his inner demons and overcoming them.
“We know that it is okay to talk about suicide, even with someone who might be thinking about it,” Daniel Reidenberg, PsyD, said. “Doing so does not make them want to die more or lead them to attempt suicide. In fact, talking with someone who is thinking about this can reduce their level of anxiety, distress, and hopelessness and encourage them to seek help.
Part of what makes the character’s experiences realistic is the author’s struggle with depression. Just like the protagonist, Vizzini had spent time in a psychiatric hospital himself. The novel provides an accurate portrayal of depression while having light-hearted and comedic moments to balance the narrative.
Esther Greenwood (The Bell Jar)
The Bell Jar was poet Sylvia Plath’s only novel, though initially published under the pen name “Victoria Lucas.” It details the story of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who spends a summer term interning for a notable magazine in New York City. Throughout the experience,
her mental health declines, which culminates in a suicide attempt. She then goes through electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) as treatment, which she claims to lift the metaphorical bell jar that leaves her struggling for air (her depression).
The book is often said to have many references to Plath’s life, as she famously struggled with clinical depression. She likewise received ECT and made several attempts to take her own life. She would later die shortly after the novel’s publication.
“Plath, like many people with dramatic lives, suffered from severe depression. Teenagers may appreciate Plath because they are experiencing intense moods and emotions for the first time,” says Kay Redfield Jamison, MA, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Reading these books will certainly educate you on the real ordeal of mental illnesses. Moreover, they will encourage you to seek online therapy.