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Why Including Mental Health Issues in Fantasy is Important

Mental health. Two words that are on-trend now, yet still so stigmatized by many, and suffered by even more. Many fantasy and science fiction stories have the protagonist suffer great losses, yet our hero dusts themself off and carries on as if nothing has happened. As the audience, we don't want to be confronted with the very realization that the person is actually traumatized and may need professional help. It's not something that becomes a hero: it makes them weak.

But...does it though?

Trauma affects everyone differently. Death to one is a relief to another. Trivializing the impact reduces the significance, and hurts the healing process when interrupted or brushed over, which is something that is seen again and again. We only have to look at superhero movies to see this is action. Whilst it makes the story flow to have a traumatized hero remain in a state of purgatory emotionally for a short time, within a couple of scenes, there appears to be no trace left of the damage they're in. What this does is create unrealistic messages to their audience; it creates a message that anyone in the audience who may be experiencing/recovering from some sort of trauma should just 'get over it'. It also creates a distorted view of how to support the person.

Blending mental health crisis with a character in a fantasy story was something I feel very strongly about: young adults and adults alike should be able to read a believable character who has flaws and is affected by their situation...enter Rey. Whilst happy-go-lucky at the very beginning of the novel Of Thorns and Demons, her world collapses as the war begins and this has a direct effect on her psyche, and, whilst it doesn't make her a bad person, the choices she makes in Of Shadow and Sword and in the upcoming Book 3, (title to be confirmed) are a result of this. The flashbacks she experiences, the low mood, lack of self-care, and outwardly aggressive and cold persona are due to her lack of acceptance that she needs help managing her inner demons.

Metaphorically, the monsters that roam the land become meaner, more dangerous, and bigger, the more she ignores her own feelings. Despite potential love interests, these become more of a distraction rather than a help and as her world crumbles, so too does her ability to remain the girl she was.

As part of my role as an author, I feel that not only is the story an allegory of the state of our current world and the very real emotional pain and torment a person can experience, it is at its center, about a young woman who is trying to overcome deep hurt and her journey to recovery. Rey is all of us, she is who we are as warriors and who we try to hide from. If her story touches just one person, the purpose of these books has been fulfilled.

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