Resources to Make Mental Illness, Personality Disorders, and Health Struggles Real in Your Characters

The doctor will see you now. . .
The doctor will see you now. . .

Regardless of your genre, it is likely that you will be dealing with the luxury and challenge of developing realistic characters who express all of the beauties and flaws of real people.  Although we are all arguably experts of mankind in some form, we are also often blinded by our own experiences and persuasions.

Luckily, today’s world is teeming with resources for writers who want to create realistically complex (and perhaps damaged) characters.  A degree in psychology isn’t necessary to empathize with and thus create a mental world ripe with the struggles and traumas so many human beings face.  A few references to check out for your next dark and brooding character:

  1. The American Psychiatric Association’s DSM V:  This is a diagnostic manual and, although it is of more practical use for clinicians given its format and intended use, it could also be the seed that helps you identify just what your character is struggling with.  If it’s a disorder (and unfortunately sometimes even if its not–we’ve gotten a lot wrong in the past as a field) then it’s in the DSM.  Don’t want to shell out the $$$ for a full copy all your own?  Then check out your local library, which should have a copy available.  You can always just buy the desk reference edition for your writer’s nest–it looks great next to Roget’s.
  2. Often our characters are struggling with physical or mental health issues that require medication and result in side effects that can be the impetus for an engaging story line. If you aren’t sure of the common medications for a particular condition, or the side effects of those meds, then the Mayo Clinic’s free online catalogue is a great resource for you.
  3. TED Talks offer opportunities to hear people with a variety of traumas and disorders share their insights and experiences.  A few of my favorites are:
  4. And just to add one more: Radiolab recently featured a show on Elements, including a discussion of lithium and bipolar disorder.  Their portrayal of a young woman’s oncoming manic episode helped me understand the state of mania better than I ever had before.

Read them in good health and great writing.

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