Using Books to Combat Mental Illness Stigma: A Rhetorical Analysis of Public Discourse Sparked by American Young Adult Novels
by Rachel Hagerman
American literature often depicts characters with mental illness. In fact, madness has been popular in American fiction since the country’s founding. Looking back to some of the nation’s first notable works of fiction—from those of Edgar Allan Poe to Nathaniel Hawthorne—readers often see these mad characters featured in gothic tales of murder, imprisonment, hauntings, and horror. Jumping to the current century, readers of American fiction can find contemporary novels addressing mental health in a variety of genres, including literary fiction, thrillers, and beyond. Perhaps most notably, depictions of mental illness are incredibly prominent in the American young adult fiction of today.
At the same time, mental illness is one of the most stigmatized health conditions in America. While this stigma is not often boldly expressed, we have a general societal disproval of psychiatric diagnoses, one that fosters feelings of shame that can deter people from seeking treatment. This stigma seems especially significant given that one in five American adults experiences mental illness each year, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among those in the United States between the ages of 10 and 34 (National Alliance of Mental Illness).
Given that mental illness is a common health issue, it is worth wondering if these popular YA fiction depictions influence public opinion about those with mental illness—and if they have any bearing on our societal stigmas. In addressing this concern, we can turn to cultivation theory, a concept founded in 1969 by University of Pennsylvania professor George Gerbner. As scholar James Shanahan succinctly explains, cultivation analysis is “a theory of story-telling, which assumes that repeated exposure to a set of messages is likely to produce agreement in an audience with opinions expressed in […] those messages” (186–187). In short, repeated messages can “cultivate” the audience’s attitudes over time, meaning that repetitive communication has persuasive power and influence over the audience.
Although Gerbner originally applied his communication theory to the study of television, scholars and researchers have since expanded his ideas to include digital media, which points to the theory’s ability to adapt to a changing media environment. I propose that, since several communication scholars have successfully expanded Gerbner’s ideas into new forms of media, it is also relevant to the public discourse—conveyed via social media, videos, and other multimodal communication—surrounding the young adult novels I will discuss in this article.
With this in mind, Gerbner’s cultivation theory suggests that we should carefully consider any repetitive trends in community conversations about YA mental illness stories; their messages have the potential to influence readers’ attitudes about mental health and those with mental illness. If this is true, then YA fiction could be an important tool in helping break down mental illness stigma.
I argue that not only do these YA novels contribute to cultivating specific attitudes about mental illness, but—perhaps more interestingly—these novels also create unique opportunities for readers to build further persuasive conversations about mental illness in their own communities. These YA readers work together to normalize mental illness and—in turn—break down mental illness stigma. By inspiring reader communities, American young adult novels are building a public conversation that normalizes mental illness as a real and common health issue.
In this article, I look at the social effects of three American YA novels popularized in the last decade: Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, Val Emmich’s Dear Evan Hansen, and John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down. Rather than focusing on literary analysis, I draw from the field of rhetoric to better understand the social context and public discourse surrounding these novels. I first examine the reading communities created through social media, publicized fan mail, and fanfiction to highlight how the novels’ fans are joining together to normalize mental illness. I then look at how critics use these fictional narratives to establish mental illness as a common health concern, especially when looking at public conversations about suicide. In each of these public communities and conversations, readers are adding to the novels’ narratives to insist that mental illness is commonplace, treatable, and need not be stigmatized.
Popular Cultural Impact: An Explanation for the Book Choices
Admittedly, there are thousands of American young adult books about mental illness I could have chosen for this study. The fact is, fictional insanity sells well in America; we love stories of the madman and of the madwoman. I chose this article’s particular three texts based on their extreme impact on the country’s current mainstream popular culture. Asher, Emmich, and Green’s YA novels are some of the most powerful players in American popular culture in recent years. These texts will allow us to see how culturally relevant narratives impact our public discourse about mental illness and connect to Gerbner’s cultivation theory. To situate each text in the context of dominant American popular culture, I will briefly introduce each text in the order of publication.
1. Jay Asher’s young adult novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, has been a hot topic since its publication in 2007, largely due to its widespread controversy. The book features a high schooler named Hannah Baker who explores the thirteen reasons why she ultimately chooses to end her life. Thirteen Reasons Why was a New York Times bestseller for 228 weeks and won several awards after its publication. Although the novel saw great monetary success, it is also one of the most challenged books in America, leading to book bans and public outrage over its depiction of suicide. The novel first saw extreme tension in 2012 when it was listed in the top ten books unsuitable for its target age group. The novel saw another noteworthy increase in popularity during 2017, when Netflix released its television series adaptation. The series sparked public backlash over its graphic scenes and became the most tweeted about show in 2017. When Netflix returned with a second season, it had over six million viewers in the first three days of its release. Ironically, like many other literary and artistic controversies, this negative publicity seems to correlate with its increased book sales and Netflix viewers, creating an even stronger impact on American culture. Regardless of the controversy the text has catalyzed, there is no denying that the novel and subsequent television adaptation have ignited widespread public and private conversations about suicide and mental illness.
2. John Green’s 2017 novel, Turtles All the Way Down, is a popular young adult novel that addresses mental health. The book follows Aza Holmes—a high school girl who struggles with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder—as she searches for a runaway billionaire with her friend Daisy and her budding love-interest, Davis Pickett. Like Green’s other published works, the book received primarily positive views, earned a slew of accolades, and benefited from a comprehensive digital marketing campaign. Turtles All the Way Down was a top seller at the time of its publication, with sales so impressive Publishers Weekly credited the book for helping lift the country’s book sales by 8% in early October. A forthcoming film adaptation is in production and will be directed by Hannah Marks.
3. Published in 2018, Dear Evan Hansen is the most recent text in this study. Written by Val Emmich—in collaboration with Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, and Steven Levenson—the novel is an adaptation of the award-winning stage musical of the same name. Like the musical, the novelization centers on a high school boy named Evan who struggles with anxiety. When people mistake Evan to be the best friend of a young boy that recently died by suicide, Evan does not correct the misconception, and this unwieldy lie grows larger while he embarks on his coming-of-age journey. The book benefited from an already established fanbase from the successful Broadway production. In fact, Emmich initially turned down the writing commission, recognizing how large a cultural phenomenon this story is and feeling pressure to match the musical’s success. Fans all over the country mailed in Evan-style letters to the original Broadway performers to thank them for casting light on mental health issues. The plot is also extremely popular in fanfiction communities, with well over 6,000 fanfiction compositions published in “Archives of Our Own.” A film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen was released in September of 2021.
In briefly overviewing these three texts, we can see that—although these novels cannot speak for every single American young adult novel featuring mental illness—these influential texts do provide a good understanding of recent dominant representations of and conversations about mental illness in America. With these chosen texts, we can investigate how reading communities formed by YA novels have addressed mental illness in the last few years. Further, given Gerbner’s cultivation theory, we can understand that the discourse surrounding these texts is of utmost importance: any repetitive messaging has the power to cultivate social beliefs about mental illness and stigma. In this article, I will first look at conversations about mental illness sparked by fans of these books. Next, I will address public conversations sparked by critics about mental illness and suicide. In both types of community conversations, be it praise or critique, the YA novels create a space where readers have the ability to normalize mental illness and combat stigma.
Fan Communities: Social Media, Fan Mail, and Fanfiction
Through social media, fan mail, and fanfiction, readers can foster communities of fans that create repetitive messages about mental health and build beyond the novels’ narratives. As we will explore, conversations within these reader communities clarify that mental illness is a real and serious topic. By repetitively emphasizing the idea that mental illness is not fictional, these readers’ public conversations further normalize mental illness as a part of the human experience. In doing so, readers not only normalize mental health diagnoses, but they also break down mental illness stigma by combating the social taboo of discussing mental illness publicly.
Each of the three YA authors in this analysis manages at least one social media platform, offering a space for readers to interact and build conversations. In some cases, followers use this space to further conversations that normalize mental illness. With an incredibly active presence on social media, John Green provides an excellent example of interacting with his reader audience to foster social media conversations that normalize mental illness.
For example, when he hosted a “Reddit Ask Me Anything” session, one of his readers prompted him to discuss how he managed anxiety when appearing at press events for a screen adaptation of one of his novels. John Green responded very candidly, saying, “In a word: Poorly. […] And I try to treat my mental illness the way you would any chronic illness…” (@thesoundandthefury). Rather than address this in a brief manner as many expect on social media platforms, John Green responded thoroughly with 237 words that stimulated public conversation about mental health. His readers responded very positively to his candor, and this response post earned the most points in the Reddit session at 1.9k.
Additionally, Green co-hosts a popular YouTube channel with his brother, where he uploaded a video explaining his personal experience with mental illness. In this video, “What OCD Is Like (for Me),” Green prepares his readers for the upcoming release of Turtles All the Way Down, saying, “The book is fictional, totally fictional, but it began from me with thinking about what it would be like to be this one particular 16-year-old girl […] living with terrifying thought spirals that she cannot see or hear but that are nonetheless very real.” He dives into an honest conversation about his personal experiences with OCD, which sparked an outpouring of YouTube comments that further normalize mental illness. In the comments, viewers also contribute their personal experiences and share which parts of his journey either resonated with their experiences or did not. Some commenters even mirror Green’s etiquette regarding public discourse about mental illness, couching their claims in statements that acknowledge the diversity of mental illness experiences such as, “for me at least.” Again, this public conversation not only repetitively shows viewers that mental illness is common, but it also breaks down the taboo barrier of talking about mental illness publicly; in short, it normalizes mental illness.
In addition to social media, readers extend the mental illness conversation beyond the book through fan mail. For example, one fan wrote to the cast of the Thirteen Reasons Why television adaptation discussing her experience with mental illness and suicidal ideation to explain what the show meant to her. Netflix published a popular YouTube video (with over two million views) in which the cast reads this anonymous letter to its viewers. In the letter, the writer explains “…in all honesty, I did think suicide was an option, but after watching the show, I realized how hard it is to do. How hard it is to watch. And that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Today, I still suffer from PTSD and mild depression, but Thirteen Reasons Why helped me a lot.” After reading the letter aloud, the cast praises the writer for seeking help for her mental illness. Actor Justin Prentice says, “Through all of the adversity they stuck it out, and they proved everyone wrong, and I think that’s amazing. That’s something we should all aspire to.” Similarly, actress Alisha Boe affirms the writer is “so resilient and beautiful” (Netflix). In this example, the anonymous writer extends the conversation about mental health by thanking the cast for introducing her to Asher’s fictional character. The connection she makes in her letter highlights the reality of mental illness outside of the fictional story. Further, Netflix’s decision to create the YouTube video further emphasizes the idea that the concepts in its fictional series have a real-world impact.
Similarly, Time magazine released a YouTube video revealing that the cast of the Dear Evan Hansen musical received thousands of emails and handwritten letters from fans about their experiences with mental illness. Inspired by the character Evan Hansen’s letter writing therapy assignment, many fans composed their personal letters using the same format Evan did, signing off as “Sincerely, Me.” Again, this extended conversation normalizes mental illness by emphasizing the fact that people experience mental illness in the real world too. The choice to discuss mental illness outside of a fictional context again breaks down the social taboo of publicly identifying as mentally ill, further normalizing mental illness as a legitimate, common part of the human experience.
Some readers involve themselves thoroughly in these texts via fanfiction, creating more opportunities for conversations about mental illness. While fanfiction is not a 21st-century invention limited to contemporary YA novels,2 fanfiction is much more widely accessible today due to the internet’s archival resources. In an interview with Michigan Today, Justin Paul, a collaborative creator in the Dear Evan Hansen novel and musical, revealed, “People started to create fan fiction and fan art […] It was clear there was a desire to engage with the characters in some greater way” (qtd. in Holdship). In fact, looking at just Archives of Our Own (a popular platform for writers to publish their fanfiction), viewers can find well over 6,000 recorded Dear Evan Hansen fanfiction stories. Although each fanfiction story has its own interpretations of and messages about mental illness, the imaginative activity prompts readers and writers to consider the Evan Hansen and Connor Murphy characters in new contexts. Readers and writers of this fanfiction are encouraged to familiarize themselves with these mentally ill characters over and over again in various scenarios. Thus, the act of writing fanfiction about mentally ill characters creates an opportunity for readers to attempt to better understand these characters. Rather than “othering” Evan and Connor, this activity fosters a desire to engage empathetically with the characters. In this way, by repeatedly encouraging empathy for characters with mental illness, the fanfiction community confronts mental illness stigma.
Of course, there are several ways in which reader fans can band together to extend the conversation about mental illness other than the use of social media, mail, and fanfiction. However, these examples provide enough insight for us to see that readers are making decisions that not only contribute to a conversation about mental illness in the real world, but, in many cases, readers are also creating repetitive messages that normalize mental illness. By continually portraying mental illness as a common and normal part of our everyday lives, these conversations help cultivate an attitude that dismantles mental illness stigma.
Critic Communities: Public Debates About Suicide Contagion3
While communities of reader fans can create powerful conversations about mental health, readers’ hesitancy or refusal to interact with these texts can be just as effective in making repetitive public statements that can “cultivate” specific messages about mental illness. One powerful example of this phenomenon is the widespread fear that Jay Asher’s novel and its television adaption breed suicide contagion. For context, both the novel and the Netflix television series feature graphic sexual violence and contain controversial depictions of suicide. After extreme public outrage and concern, Netflix edited the first season of TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY to remove a three-minute, graphic scene that depicts Hannah’s suicide. This addressed only some of the public’s concerns about the show. Although the series attracts teenage viewers, both the edited and unedited episodes feature very mature content. This controversial material has inspired public conversations about mental illness and suicide contagion that reinforce society’s concern for mental health and its belief that mental illness is both common and serious.
The Thirteen Reasons Why controversy fostered a public debate about depicting suicide in media, which normalized mental illness as something worthy of public attention. On the one hand, Asher and many of his fans believe censoring the severity of suicide is dangerous. On the other hand, many educators and mental health professionals fear that graphic depictions of suicide will encourage suicide contagion. In an interview with The Charlotte Observer, Jay Asher explained his stance that confronting the issue directly allows him “to show how horrific it is [and] to force them to really grapple with it” (qtd. in Hamblin). While this controversial approach has garnered support from many fans, it has also concerned many mental health professionals and educational advocates. Shortly after the Netflix show’s debut, a handful of schools publicly praised the novel, hoping to incorporate it into their curriculum, while several entire school districts attempted to ban the book from its grounds, even for personal reading. Many mental health professionals and critics pointed out that the series abandons the official recommendations for depicting suicide in media and can be interpreted as a glorification of suicide.4 For example, The National Alliance on Mental Illness publicly rebuked the plot for fantasizing suicide revenge and for posing a risk to vulnerable readers. Looking to introduce some data into the conversation, JAMA International Medicine published an article revealing that, in the 19 days following Netflix’s release, suicide related internet searches spiked significantly. For example, the search term, “how to commit suicide,” increased by 26%, and the term, “suicide hotline number” rose 21%. The researchers conclude, “13 Reasons Why, in its present form, has both increased suicide awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation” (Ayers et al.).
Also wanting data to support its stance, University of Chicago published a literature review that highlighted a study in which research subjects reported being more willing to help someone with mental illness after watching two seasons of TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY. However, these researchers also found “an immediate decline in some viewers’ mental health” (Mueller). Though this study is compelling, the review expresses the need for more substantial research to better understand fiction’s impact on suicide contagion. Regardless of one’s stance on this matter, it is clear that the public is invested in making informed decisions about promoting or discouraging depictions of suicide in fiction. This concern strengthens readers’ awareness that mental illness is real and serious, in turn normalizing mental illness. Public conversations about suicide contagion also imply the value of investing in mental health treatment and support, which helps combat mental illness stigma and feelings of shame surrounding suicidal ideation.
An Important Sidenote about Literary Depictions of Suicide
Thirteen Reasons Why is often demonized for its glorification of suicide, but please consider that Asher is not the only famous American author to glamorize suicide; in fact, the glorification of suicide is evident in the scholarship of some of our most renowned classics. For example, many scholars read Edna’s suicide from Kate Chopin’s The Awakening as a triumph against the gender norms established by the patriarchy. Although this interpretation highlights the themes of female empowerment and sexuality, it does little to address the demi-fou5 nature of Edna’s written thoughts or the tragedy of the narrator’s suggestion that her doctor could have helped her: “[p]erhaps Doctor Mandelet would have understood if she had seen him—but it was too late; the shore was far behind her” (138). To ignore the tragedy of this moment is to romanticize suicide. Author of Surviving Literary Suicide Jeffrey Berman explains that teachers and critics tend to further glorify fictional suicide by ignoring existing trauma in their literary interpretations. According to Berman, it is more accurate to say, “Edna’s triumph over a patriarchal society comes with her awakening to her true self, not her renunciation of life” (qtd. in Reda). For him, there is a strong argument to interpret Edna as resistant to an oppressive patriarchal society, but it is irresponsible to ignore the horror of her death and inappropriate to celebrate her suicide as a triumph. Although he does not promote censorship of such literature, he does encourage readers, teachers, and critics to be honest about the implications of all literary suicide and remember that suicidal ideation exists beyond fictional stories. In other words, remain aware that classic texts can romanticize suicide just the same as contemporary YA texts can. While this idea is not earth-shattering, the fact remains that the public reacts very strongly to glorification of suicide in modern YA books like Thirteen Reasons Why while still promoting and amplifying comparable depictions in classic texts.
Literary Suicide in a Modern Context
Just as the glorification of suicide is not new, the idea that suicide contagion exists is an old idea. It would be misleading for me to pretend the fear of suicide contagion bred through literature is a 21st-century phenomenon restricted to American YA novels. For example, Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, infamously inspired several readers to end their lives using the same technique as the protagonist. Some of these readers left copies of the novel by their sides at their death, suggesting that these events were not coincidental. Authorities termed this phenomenon “Werther Fever” and banned the novel in Leipzig, Denmark, and Italy. The difference between this 18th-century novel and Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why is that we now have the tools to disseminate information much more quickly and widely. This, of course, means that today’s readers have easy access to a large selection of public conversations that critique Asher’s depiction of mental health and suicide. In other words, Gerbner’s cultivation theory becomes so much more relevant in this modern context as readers are exposed to repetitive, accessible public discourse about this book.
It’s important to acknowledge that this public conversation inevitably impacts the direct relationship between the YA reader and the text. Although access to public critique may be readily accessible to young adult readers, in some cases, readers will not be able to access the actual text because of the book bans and because of Netflix’s decision to create a title-level pin code that parents can use to block their children’s access to this specific show. In other cases—when readers can access either the television show or the novel—the public debates, which emphasize that suicidal ideation is real and serious, will undoubtedly impact the way consumers interpret and understand the text. Again, the controversy spurred on by the fear of suicide contagion is unique in this 21st-century context insofar as readers are widely aware of and impacted by these public conversations that normalize mental illness.
The Good and Bad News About “Cultivation” in YA Fiction Public Discourse
By looking at the community conversations inspired by Asher, Green, and Emmich’s YA novels, we see that fiction inspires readers—fans and critics alike—to combat mental illness stigma. More specifically, readers of these YA novels create further repetitive messaging about mental illness in the public sphere using a variety of media. During these public conversations, readers continually assert that mental illness exists beyond these fictional narratives and should be taken seriously. They reinforce the idea that mental illness is an ordinary and familiar part of the human experience. In other words, mental illness narratives help readers come together to normalize mental illness as a part of our everyday lives, and in turn, the readers combat stigma.
Not only do YA stories have the power to “cultivate” specific messages about mental illness in their own right—as scholar Gerbner’s research would suggest—but these novels also inspire further messaging through public conversations formed by their networks of fans and critics. The social impact of mental health narratives like Turtles All the Way Down or Dear Evan Hansen extends far beyond the book. In this way, the reading community is a key player in addressing mental illness stigma with YA novels. This realization offers a rather promising outlook for combatting mental illness stigma: young adult novels about mental illness are creating communities with productive opportunities for wider public discourse about mental health.
Although cultivation theory offers an optimistic outlook for those interested in reducing mental illness stigma, I would like to argue that there is still—and perhaps always will be—room for improvement in these repetitive, contemporary messages about mental illness. People often criticize American publishing houses for lacking diverse stories, and it’s worth acknowledging that American literature often features very similar stories about mental health, especially regarding racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Simply put, no single story can represent everyone’s experience with mental illness. Because of this, diversity in mental health narratives could help cultivate a more accurate picture of mental health and illness.
In looking at the influential texts in this article, for example, all three novels feature a white main character. Even though mental illness can impact people of any racial background, American young adult novels about mental illness tend to focus on teenage white boys and girls. Author and editor Patrice Caldwell explains that pretending that mental illness is a “white man’s disease” has serious social ramifications for people of color experiencing mental illness. As a Black woman with anxiety and depression, Caldwell reflects, “the language passed down to me reinforced the narrative told in music, movies, and books: that mental illness is something white people, not people of color or Native people, experience.” This belief, of course, could be damaging, especially if it deters people from seeking necessary treatment. In other words, although American YA novels are spurring on repetitive messaging that cultivates the idea that mental illness is a common health concern—this cultivation is largely restricted to depictions of mental illness in white people.
Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addresses this sort of idea in her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” In the speech, Adichie illustrates several different versions of the “single story” of Africa typically seen in Western literature. To explain the consequence of this single story, she jokes, “I recently spoke at a university where a student told me that it was such a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in my novel. I told him that I had just read a novel called American Psycho and that it was such a shame that young Americans were serial murderers.” Of course, her response to the student was sarcastic and highlights how absurd his conclusions about Nigerian men were. She suggests that the student reached this absurd conclusion, not because he is an unintelligent person, but because he was not exposed to various representations of Nigeria. Explaining her experience reading American Psycho, Adichie says she never thought the serial killer in the novel “was somehow representative of all Americans [because she] had many stories of America [and] did not have a ‘single story’ of America.” Because Adichie had various, diverse representations of America, she did not believe a misleading stereotype about American men as the student did about Nigerian men. Similarly, a “single story” about mental illness can create stereotypes that mislead the reader, with mental illness as a “white man’s disease” being just one stereotype example.
Although American YA novels offer a promising outlook towards normalizing mental illness, we must remain aware that a single story about mental illness is not completely sufficient to combat stigma. Adichie explains, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” In other words, repetitive depictions of a specific mental illness experience create a very limited perspective on mental health. Mental illness as a “white man’s disease” is only a single story; it is incomplete and misleading. Of course, race is just one instance where a lack of diversity can create limiting stereotypes. Any stereotype about mental illness can be problematic. When there is a lack of diverse representations of what it means to have a mental illness, not everyone reaps the benefits from the cultivated messages that attempt to combat stigma.
Therefore, Gerbner’s cultivation theory teaches us two important lessons when looking at community conversations surrounding American young adult novels: (1) these books can inspire public discourse that cultivates beliefs to dismantle mental illness stigma, and (2) in order for more people to reap the benefits of this cultivation, a larger diversity of mental illness stories is paramount.
1. I use several phrases and terms to describe mental illness in this article. I would like to acknowledge that the names we use to describe mental illness carry great weight and meaning. Since this article considers stigma as a medical concern that deters people from seeking treatment, I will most commonly use the term “mental illness.” I refer to other terms such as “madness” in this analysis as well. This choice is not to belittle or stigmatize mental illness, but rather acts as a subtle nod to the discourse of Mad Pride, a movement that favors the use of words like “mad” as it reclaims the stigmatized language and “offers the same kind of blanket appeal as ‘queer,’ taking in huge diversity but also providing coalition-building power” (Lucchesi).
2. Charles Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novels are a couple notable examples of 19th-century texts that inspired fandom periodicals and unauthorized reprints and sequels.
3. Suicide contagion, as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is “the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, one’s peer group, or through media reports of suicide and can result in an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviors.”
4. Journalists are encouraged to follow several guidelines when reporting on suicide to reduce the risk of suicide contagion. Some of these recommendations include not glamorizing or romanticizing suicide, refraining from sensationalizing the details of the suicide, sharing that “coping skills, support, and treatment work for most people who have thought about suicide,” and describing “warning signs and risk factors, including mental illness” (“Best Practices and Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide”).
5. Demi-fou is a French term meaning “half-mad” that originated in the 19th-century. When characters exist as demi-fous figures, they live on the borderlands of insanity; they never receive a definitive mental illness diagnosis, but the reader still questions their sanity. Edna Pontellier in Chopin’s The Awakening struggles with mental illness, even ending her life at the end of the text by swimming out to sea. However, Chopin never directly confirms Edna’s madness. Instead, she makes small references throughout the text to suggest that she has mental health issues.
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Rachel Hagerman is a 2021 graduate of Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University. While at ASU, she studied English (Writing, Rhetorics and Literacies) and worked as a freelance writer and Senior Writing Mentor. She is a founding editor of The Spellbinding Shelf, a book blog that gives college students practical writing and editing experience. She also interned with Superstition Review, She Writes Press, and SparkPress. Hagerman currently works as a Client Project Manager at MDS Communications, where she helps nonprofits in their fundraising efforts. Her work is published in Scottsdale Progress, West Valley View, Red Cedar Review, The Entertainer! Magazine, Lux Undergraduate Creative Review, College Times, Forbes & Fifth, and elsewhere.