On Saturday I participated in my first convention panel on Mental Health in Speculative fiction at Continuum 14.
Contintuum focuses on science fiction and fantasy and is a convention that unites artists, writers, readers and fans of the genre.
My wife Kat is a writer and photographer and is heavily involved in the writing, science fiction and fantasy scene. Kat suggested that because of both my lived experience with mental health and also in working in homelessness and mental health for more than ten years coupled a love of speculative fiction I join this panel. I really enjoyed the experience and I will definitely be doing it again.
The panel consisted of Laura Wilkinson, Kirstyn McDermott, Pete Aldin, Lauren E Mitchell and myself.
It was great to meet new fans and friends at Continuum and I’m looking forward to next year.
Key Takeaway points from the panel
- Mental health conditions sometime occur episodically to suit a narrative, the hero might go through depression to only get out of it and return to ‘normal’. Often chronic conditions are not really explored, there are also conditions such as autism (although see recommendation below for a good one) hoarding etc that often don’t feature prominently enough in speculative fiction
- It’s important for authors to talk to people with lived experience when researching, now there’s more accessibility to people with a lived experience – social media, peer education programs etc. The internet and plethora of stories, sites and resources make this easier than ever.
- Does the hero and antihero name and trope reinforce stigma? Characters who are darker wrestling with trauma and mental health are anti-heroes, Jessica Jones, Batman etc however the heroic mythos often unrealistic such as the chosen one with special powers, why is the more common experiences that correspond to how people navigate life labelled anti-hero, is that another form of stigma?
- Agreement on the falsely romanticised view of the tortured artist as if somehow trading their mental health for their genius and creativity, success in in spite of not because the mental health condition.
The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
Near future science fiction which takes the point of view of an autistic process analyst. Won the 2003 Hugo award.
Defying Doomsday Anthology
Defying Doomsday is an anthology of apocalypse fiction featuring disabled and chronically ill protagonists, proving it’s not always the “fittest” who survive – it’s the most tenacious, stubborn, enduring and innovative characters who have the best chance of adapting when everything is lost.
In stories of fear, hope and survival, this anthology gives new perspectives on the end of the world, from authors Corinne Duyvis, Janet Edwards, Seanan McGuire, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Stephanie Gunn, Elinor Caiman Sands, Rivqa Rafael, Bogi Takács, John Chu, Maree Kimberley, Octavia Cade, Lauren E Mitchell, Thoraiya Dyer, Samantha Rich, and K L Evangelista.
Madness and Memoir by Kate Richards
Madness, a memoir is an insight into what it’s like to live with psychosis over a period of ten years, in which bouts of acute illness are interspersed with periods of sanity. The world is beautiful and terrifying and sometimes magical. The sanctity of life is at times precious and at times precarious and always fragile. It’s a story of learning to manage illness with courage and creativity, of achieving balance and living well. It is for everyone now living within the world of madness, for everyone touched by this world, and for everyone seeking to further his or her understanding of it, whether you think of madness as a biological illness of the brain or an understandable part of the continuum of the human condition.
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick
Great depiction of someone spiralling out of control, paranoia living in shady share houses, other drug uses, co-morbidity and interaction between substance use and mental health, doesn’t shy away from the interaction between substance use and mental health, it shone a light under the sunny side of the 70s.
The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan and a Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
Two books which look at ghosts through the prism of mental health issues. Both well crafted and thoughtful.
Dark and Stormy Knight by Travis Langley
A comprehensive book that looks at mental health conditions in Batman and the mythos of the shadow self being explored in Batman and the enemies.
This 90’s feel good cleverly uses time loop to show how initially going through repetitive days can he goes into a suicidal depression but comes out realising that connecting with others in a genuine way out of repetitive hell.
This film cleverly uses it’s meta angle to explore and sometimes send up Batman trying to process his childhood trauma alone, he still needs a sense of family in his life, even if your family is broken a surrogate family via friends can be found a built around you. It reflects notions of healthy attachment and mindfulness both of which help people overcome trauma.
This Australian horror film explores the horror of grief, motherhood, aloneness and also learning to live with a monster. Very well crafted and honest look at how difficult tit is to cope.
A Julianne Moore film on Netflix currently called Shelter uses dissociative identity disorder as a basis for supernatural shenanigans but at least it acknowledges the current debate in psychology over whether or not the condition actually exists
The show illustrates the collective failure to care for veterans and the tragic path of Lewis Wilson a young man afflicted by PTSD, the show doesn’t condone his path but shows how systematic failure can contribute to alienation, pain and tragedy it reminds us that mental health is not just an individual route we all bear collective responsibility.
Another excellent look at trauma and the link to mental health. Shows how even the powerful can be vulnerable to trauma and manipulation.