Mental Illness in Fiction

The main character of my book, Rebecca Slater, is a person with bipolar disorder. This does not define her but it is something she has to be mindful of. She lives a nice life in Ann Arbor, works as a teacher, is trying to be a writer, has a loving family and good friends. But the bipolar is always there.

One of the reasons I created this character is because I’m not happy with how mental illness is portrayed in fiction. Too often the person is portrayed as being the illness–the suicidal woman, the OCD man, the depressed teenager. One of the first things we learn when going to school to be a special education teacher is to use person first language. Instead of saying “I work with blind students”, we say “I work with students who are visually impaired. ” Instead of saying “My autistic students”, we say “My students who are on the spectrum.”

It makes a big difference. We see the person as, well, a person!


It is such a simple thing that makes a huge difference! We can see our students as kids who like to play on the swings, who will only eat the brown sugar Pop Tars, and who love to pet their dog. They are also on the spectrum but that’s just a part of it.

Same with my character. In my pitch letter, I called Rebecca the depressive, rotund, not-your-dreamgirl (obviously a riff on the “manic pixie dreamgirl” trope) and the Gen-X heroine we didn’t know we needed. She loves 80s music, waxes nostalgically about her college days, shares her knowledge of local history with anyone who will listen, quaffs craft beer liberally, and worries about her comatose best friend. She also has bipolar disorder.

I can’t wait for you to meet her when CONTINUOUS MOMENT is released in August. I hope you love her as much as I do!


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3 Responses to Mental Illness in Fiction

  1. Beth Carter says:

    I’ll be eager to read this. One of my main characters in THURSDAYS AT COCONUTS and my new release, CHAOS AT COCONUTS, (Book 2) has a “touch of OCD” as she calls it with many rituals that are quirky, yet endearing to her best friends and boyfriend. She’s a spunky bank marketer, always runs late, has a bit of a potty mouth, but is loyal to a fault.

  2. teacherpatti says:

    Thanks, Beth! I want to chat with you about kids’ books one of these days! I’m an elementary special ed teacher with lots to say!! 🙂

  3. As a teacher, I, too, have to remember to address the needs of those students who may have special needs in such a way that they can progress like any other student.

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