Empathy Over Stigma: YA Authors On Making Mental Health Visible In Their Works

As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, Tor Teen YA authors hosted a conversation on mental health representation in YA fiction. Titled “Empathy Over Stigma,” the panel featured YA authors TJ Klune (The Extraordinaries), Mark Oshiro (Each of Us a Desert), and Lauren Shippen (A Neon Darkness).

The trio sat down over Crowdcast to discuss the responsibility of writing about a frequently misrepresented topic, how they react to readers who don’t feel portrayed, changing people’s perceptions of therapy, tips for bad mental health days, first-person experiences vs. research, sensitivity readers, book recommendations, and much more. Watch the video above, and follow along below the jump for time-stamped questions.

[Editor’s note: Questions have been edited for length and clarity.]

  • 0:00 Introductions
  • 6:00 Can you talk about your work that just came out and how it relates to mental illness?
  • 12:17 How do you deal with the weight and responsibility that comes with representing an often badly represented topic in fiction?
  • 17:56 Is portraying mental health and other aspects of your identity part of the initial idea or is it something that comes later?
  • 24:44 How do you react to people who say that your representation of a mental health issue isn’t true for them?
  • 28:30 Do you only write from first person experiences or do you branch out into forms of mental health you might not have experiences with? What do you do to make sure the experience is authentic, if not necessarily universal?
  • 40:49 How do you take care of your own mental health when you’re immersed in this stuff all day every day, especially during a pandemic?
  • 47:17 How do you deal with an editor going through edits and not understanding something that you’re trying to get across, especially if it’s your own personal truth?
  • 52:18 There are still people who have a negative outlook on therapy. Do you think positive representation of therapy in YA books can help change their minds?
  • 58:00 What are some things that you do to help cope with “bad mental health days”?
  • 1:06:29 Do you have any book recommendations about great mental health representation?
  • 1:10:39 Do you believe that fiction romanticizes mental health problems?
  • 1:18:41 What do you hope your readers who struggle with mental illness will take away from your work?


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