Writing Sensitive Issues: Depression

I was talking to my buddy; the Australian, last night. And we were talking about things that we each feel are difficult to write when it comes to our characters. I ended up telling him that Shadows Rise will have me for the first time ever write a character who is genuinely depressed and has legitimately been suicidal. This is something I’ve usually steered clear from for personal reasons, but… The more I developed this character more I realized this about her. And I can’t just erase that part of her for the sake of my own comfort. This is her story too, it’s not right.

Now, I’ve been really vocal about how I don’t think you should treat characters as a set of traits and I stand behind that. I think that the right way to write characters with certain issues is to keep them in the background. You never explicitly tell your readers “this person has depression, look!”, you simply write in the signs that someone is depressed.

The character in question is the bubbliest nicest character in the Wolf Hunters. She’s not going to be blatantly sad 100% of the time. She’s not going to be crying in the corners. She’s not going to isolate herself. She’s not a depressing character.

“But Biiiird… How do I convey depression if the character isn’t sad!?”

Welp… Here’s a thing I think people should know… A lot of people who have depression aren’t sad 100% of the time, OR, they don’t appear sad. And in this, I’m going to speak from experience because I can’t possibly treat this as something Universal. What I am going to do is talk a bit about things I experienced myself and what I noticed in this character. And I won’t specify which is which. Yeah. >.>

I consider depression to be 90% internal. What pops up on the surface is just a fraction of what the person is feeling. A lot of people will overcompensate with humor, especially if they’re extroverts, and will cling to the little things that bring them joy. They’ll desperately try to avoid being alone with their thoughts and will often make the excuse of taking care of others. Finding things that make you laugh, or feeling helpful and useful to others does alleviate the feeling of emptiness to some extent, so clinging to these moments, these feelings, is a pretty natural thing to do. Wanting to constantly help others is a way to keep them around without having to admit that you need them. It’s a classical ‘don’t let them see you’re hurting’ tactic. Likewise, it’s also a lot easier to shower people with affection than accepting it from others. This, depending on what kinds of people you have around, can lead to having your sense of self-worth strongly bound with your sense of usefulness to others. Which can make things a lot worse in the long run.

I think you get the picture by now.

The point I’m trying to make is that the reason a lot of people with depression suffer in silence is that, this is not the sort of thing you wear on the surface. And even though now, in a lot of places on the internet, it’s trendy to label yourself things and advertise your mental and emotional conditions to the world, most people still don’t want to be seen as depressed or deal with the possibility of being a burden to others. So they put up a front.

In a lot of characters with depression, that front is utterly missing and they end up written like a caricature; an overly dramatic version of the real thing.

I’m not writing about this to put down writers for wanting to add these things to their stories, but I personally feel that focusing on them is the wrong way to do it. At best you’ll end up sounding like a PSA and at worst you may actually perpetuate a lot of misconceptions. Just be realistic about it, be real about it, make this one thing a part of a greater picture and not the focus of a character’s storyline.

Welp, that’s my opinion anyway. >.>


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