Having a mental illness affects your everyday life in many ways. There is so much that comes into writing characters with a mental disorder such as depression and it can be an intimidating task. However, writing these complex characters with relatable struggles can also be incredibly satisfying.
Generally, depression is characterized by being troubled by constant feelings of sadness, a loss of interest in activities that once used to bring joy, and a decreased ability to do everyday chores or function normally.
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Why should you include characters with depression or other mental disorders in your writing?
Mental disorders will affect approximately ¼ of the population at some point in their lives. Hence, it’s important to include characters in your stories that at least 25% of the population can relate to. After all, representation is very important for all groups of people, and this is no different for those who suffer from mental disorders. Also, a more proper, and accurate representation of mental disorders can aid in the reduction of stigmatization.
Writing characters with mental illness can make your story seem more relatable and realistic. Most of us have either dealt with a mental illness ourselves or have witnessed significant others go through it. Hence, reading about characters that have struggled through these same things makes your story feel more real.
In general, the characters that have struggled the most are the ones that captivate your readers the most. Everyone appreciates reading about complex characters who have had to go through struggles that are real and relatable.
Last but not least, as a writer, it is beneficial to be able to and practice writing different kinds of characters efficiently and accurately.
How to write Characters with Depression
What are the main symptoms a character with depression should display? There are a number of ways that depression can manifest itself. Each individual may display different symptoms or deal with depression in different ways. Hence, keep in mind that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to writing depressed characters. However, there are common symptoms that indicate that one may be suffering from depression which include:
- A tendency to feel deep sadness
- A loss of interest in activities that the character once used to enjoy
- Appetite changes which lead to overeating or undereating
- Difficulty concentrating and/or indecisiveness
- Changes in sleep patterns that lead to insomnia (sleeping too little) or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
- Extreme and persistent fatigue
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Anxiety and Irritability
- Thoughts of suicide
How can your character seek treatment?
If you decide to write about your character seeking treatment for their depression, there are several ways you can go about it. Depression is a very treatable mental illness. Around 80 to 90% of people who seek treatment for their depression experience significant relief from their symptoms.
Hence, it is very realistic to have your character significantly improve after their treatment. Before seeking treatment, however, your character should be diagnosed by a mental health professional.
- Antidepressants are usually prescribed as a form of treatment. Effects may be noted the first two week of taking them, but it takes a couple months before the full effects are noted. There are several types of antidepressants including: SSRIs, SNRIs, Tricyclic drugs, MAOIs etc.
- Psychotherapy, often referred to as “talk therapy” is another form of treatment your character can seek. This type of treatment may involve just the individual or may include other people as well. Group therapy, family therapy and even couple therapy can be offered. Family and couple therapy are offered as an option because the dynamics of the these relationships may be affected one person is suffering from depression.
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is typically offered for severe depression. It involved the electrical stimulation of the brain whilst the individual is under anesthesia.
What to avoid when writing characters with depression
In order to be responsible with your writing, there are certain things you must avoid when writing about mental disorders such as depression.
You must never glorify or romanticize the pain and suffering that your characters go through because of their mental illness.
You should also avoid implying that superficial things such as money and success can solve or “cure” depression. Depression is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain and superficial things can’t change that. The same thing goes for romantic relationships. Your character can be in a healthy relationship whilst still suffering from depression.
The types of depression
All depression isn’t the same. There are several specific types of depression that your character can suffer from which include:
Persistent depressive disorder (Dysthymia)
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder