The mad, the bad, the sad – the art of mental health

Boring bits, dull times  – we all have them. Niggles and annoyances – we all have them. Worries – we all have them.

Fears, real or imagined – we all have them. Feelings and emotions – we certainly all have them

But when we find dealing with our days too much and our mental harmony out of kilter…

Despair can fill the gap. And a big black hole may beckon…

Probably someone near you – right now (yes look around you) has (or has had experience of) depression, anxiety, low mood, suicidal thoughts – some kind of mental health struggle. The stats;  1 in 4 people in England will experience a mental health problem in any given year and a “growing concern” – particularly about our girl teens –  give our news editors at least one big headline, a week.


“Children and young people face a mental health crisis, and the government’s promised improvements are not happening quickly enough.

Young people referred to mental health services are at the mercy of a postcode lottery, with waiting times for assessment varying from under a week to more than a year depending on where they live. Then, when they are assessed, nearly a quarter of children are refused treatment, often on the grounds that their conditions are “not serious enough”. YoungMinds.

Social media is under closer scrutiny too; a place of bullying and belittling or a place of understanding and empathy?

Speaking out and support for young minds (on a range of social media platforms) has come from some surprising places; the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry – Heads Together,  many celebrities including model, Cara Delavigne and vlogger, Zoella Sugg and the flamboyant Self Esteem Team led by Natasha Devon (the former Mental health Czar, axed from her role, it would appear, for refusing to toe the Conservative party line).There’s a strong message, though,  from these high-profile bods – Talk about it, read about it, watch and listen to others. Don’t feel alone.


From the many usefully categorized articles here –

To supportive life-enhancing charities like Project Semi-Colon – global non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury. (


One things for sure; our minds are in constant flux and need some looking after, even if we’re not battling a mardy mental demon, or two.

Take heart, dear one, there’s literary help out there too.

Read: for a deeper understanding of the working of a dispirited mind;  interior dialogues raw and ragged

Writers suffer from depression too.  It’s been researched in Sweden.  “Writers have a slightly increased risk for depression and suicide” Simon Kyaga, MD, of the department for medical epidemiology and biostatistics at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm.  From Mark Twain to J.K Rowling,  the list of famous depressed writers is ever expanding (Marian Keyes, Carol Joyce Oates are more recent additions).  And then there are those who come to writing just because of their depression and use it to spike their prose (Liz Mistry, Brian Sweany).

The ability to brilliantly encapsulate the emotions of the worried and world-weary came from first-hand experience for these authors too;

Saul Bellow’s Herzog (2001). The inner-workings of the manic mind of an aged American intellectual? Possibly not the most enticing prospect for an enjoyable read, but Bellow’s skill in capturing “humanity” in all its variations pulls this off magnificently.

Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation (1996) for all 1970 kids everywhere. A Generation Xer finds growing into adulthood hard to do.

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (1963) Partially based on Plath’s own life, her only novel describes a young woman’s descent into mental illness.

More good books examining real and raw mental illness

Reading Well  is a nationwide charity promoting the benefits of reading for health and wellbeing. This year it launched a new campaign aimed at 13- to 18-year-olds.  Delivered by charity The Reading Agency and the Society of Chief Librarians it offers a book list to support good mental health for teens. (

Listen: to hear minds talking; revelatory and supportive

The Mental Illness Happy Hour is a weekly online podcast that interviews comedians, artists, friends, and the occasional doctor. Each episode explores mental illness, trauma, addiction and negative thinking.

Call Your Girlfriend – 2 best friends call each other every other week, to discuss the intricacies of pop culture and the latest in politics. “Like eavesdropping on a witty gabfest that covers everything from midterm elections to female Viagra.“ – Los Angeles magazine 

The Moth Radio Hour –  True stories with a mental health theme told live.

Watch: You’re more likely to find the mad and the bad on the big screen


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest . Ken Kesey’s dark and sombre satire on the heavy-handed treatment of mental illness in modern America, now a Nicholson film classic.

The film industry has often been accused of exaggerating, downplaying or perpetuating stereotypes about mental illness. “There is a tendency in films to try and normalise mental illness by saying that patients don’t need treatment, they need love. The audience gets the two extremes and what we are not getting are portrayals of people with chronic illness. Which, for anyone who has suffered with an ongoing mental issue, is beyond laughable.” Dr Van Velsen, a consultant psychiatrist who produced research on this topic. (Source

But more recent portrayals have produced more sympathetic and authentic depictions of different minds;

Silver Linings Playbook (2012), a heart-warming look at bipolar disorder with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

The Hours (2002), based on Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, a compelling presentation of depression by Nicole Kidman;

Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (2013) Cate Blanchett poignantly displays the effects of a histrionic personality disorder,

He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not (2002), offers a pretty authentic depiction of a delusional disorder by Audrey Tautou,

Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind (2001) shines a light on the severe schizophrenia of late mathematician John Nash.




A free online course from Warwick University on how enjoying literature can help us better to endure life.The course considers how poems, plays and novels can help us understand and cope with times of deep emotional strain. The reading load will be flexible, and you will have the opportunity to exchange ideas and feelings via the online discussions with other learners.

Featured Image – La Vie, Picasso (1903)