With the end of the summer came Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 2–9) hosted by the National Alliance of Mental Illness. I knew that May was Mental Health Awareness Month, but I was pleased to hear another week was nationally devoted to breaking the stigma against mental illnesses. One in four people are affected by mental health disorders, and only two-thirds of that statistic ever seeks professional help. As the World Health Report states,”Where there is neglect, there is little or no understanding. Where there is no understanding, there is neglect.”
Acknowledging the possibility that something just isn’t feeling right is difficult enough for an individual who is already struggling with the effects of depression, or any mental illness altering one’s perception of themselves in relation to the world around them. And the issue of lamenting this invisible lethargy of sadness to a professional, a stranger, is by no means an easy feat. But it’s the cultural and social aspects of recognizing and talking about mental health issues that complicate the decision to seek treatment. That’s why I was incredibly impressed when I learned that a group of science fiction authors were hosting a social media campaign called
#HoldOnToTheLight. Created by Gail Z. Martin, the campaign encompasses “blog posts by fantasy and science fiction authors around the world in an effort to raise awareness around treatment for depression, suicide prevention, domestic violence intervention, PTSD initiatives, bullying prevention, and other mental health–related issues.” The campaign serves as a welcoming, inclusive space where authors and readers alike can share stories of mental illness without shame or embarrassment.
As a reader who leans more toward the land of general literary fiction, I knew little about the science fiction community, and I honestly didn’t care to know. But since learning about this campaign, I’ve realized this genre has been talking about mental health–related issues and anxieties since its conception. The New York Times writes, “Science fiction does not detail the realities of specific problems so that we might avoid them, but rather represent our most pressing cultural fears.” For example, in his dystopian novel 1984, George Orwell encompasses issues related to the nature of his home nation in the turmoil of WWII and how democracy was being betrayed by totalitarianism (excuse my incredibly poor summary) by exploring an alternate reality for his characters. J. P. Telotte explains that “while science fiction … novels often, and quite naturally, raise awareness of—or stimulate discussion about—scientific and technological issues including climate change, they seldom function as primers for the solutions we need for these very knotty problems. More often, they make us feel better about our ability to survive them.”
While #HoldOnToTheLight wasn’t created to discuss mental illness in metaphors or analogies, it gives science fiction authors a place to honestly collect and disperse their personal accounts relating to depression, anxiety, or any ailment that has affected them mentally. Whether science fiction is portraying a realistic rendition of mental illness or exploring the issues through a greater metaphorical lens, I’m content in knowing that this community of writers is working to create a safe space for those suffering.
As Lord Byron once said of writers (and humans in general), “We of the craft are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.”