Thinking about taking up the pen for some emotional release? Wondering about how to write about your mental health but not sure how to start?
We asked four authors about the obstacles and triumphs that they encountered while writing about their lived experience of mental health problems, and their best tips for writing a personal mental health story.
Writing is often seen as a cathartic act. There are many benefits to starting expressive writing or journal to improve your mental health. However, when turning your attention inward it is important to remember to be kind to yourself, take breaks, and seek support from your network of friends, family, and therapist.
Looking to publish your mental health story? Cherish Editions is our bespoke self-publishing service for mental health, wellbeing and inspirational books.
4 mental health writers share their writing tips
Bethany Hacker, the author of Where Do We Go From Here?
To write about your mental health experiences can be extremely cathartic.
I started writing my book while I was in the psychiatric hospital. At first, I used writing to document many of the funny or ridiculous things that I encountered; things that no one would ever believe happened. I started doing most of my writing at night in the dayroom when most other patients were asleep. Writing was calming and it gave me a purpose. It was a way to reflect on my day and it eventually led to me connecting my past to the present situation. I set myself goals of how much I wanted to write every day as well as giving myself pause to think and practice mindfulness. This led to a routine that I was able to continue once out of the hospital. I never thought that I would share any of my writing with anyone for fear of ridicule. I know that there is still a stigma surrounding mental health, and I wasn’t (and still am not) sure how people I know – family included – will react to my experiences, but I feel I need to get my words out and tell my story – not the story people tell about me.
The biggest tip I’d offer someone on writing about their own mental health would be to figure out what is to be gained – i.e., the end goal. To write about your mental health experiences can be extremely cathartic. It can possibly lead to new revelations about yourself and how you got to where you currently are. However, writing about your own experiences can bring up demons and issues that you thought you had already sorted through. It is important to know if you are in a good enough “place” to be writing about mental health in general.
Bethany Hacker is the author of Where Do We Go From Here? published by Cherish Editions. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
Adelaide Perr, the author of Degloved: Every Scar has a Story
Anyone writing about their mental health needs ‘support people’ who can help identify when the writing may be causing other concerns.
In many ways, I didn’t find the process of writing my story to be helpful with my mental health. For one, I love reading well-written books and had high expectations for my memoir, which frequently made me feel overwhelmed or stressed. I also did not enjoy reliving the past, especially during the editing phase. Yet, I am very glad I wrote Degloved: Every Scar Has a Story because I feel the finished product has been excellent for my mental health. Anytime I achieve a goal I get a boost of self-confidence. The book itself has helped me connect with other crash victims and people diagnosed with bipolar II or PTSD in a very deep and meaningful way. Finally, because I spent five years writing about my recovery from the bike crash, I feel that I have done the appropriate internal work to move past the trauma and enjoy the next phase of life.
My memoir is about being hit on my bike by an inattentive driver. In the middle of writing, it became more difficult to enjoy riding outside. Luckily, I had a trauma therapist who helped me identify that it was too stressful to be reliving the crash memories through writing while simultaneously trying to ride outside. She gave me permission to back off and take care of myself emotionally. I think anyone writing about their mental health needs ‘support people’ who can help identify when the writing may be causing other concerns in life and solid self-care practices in place.
Adelaide Perr is the author of Degloved: Every Scar has a Story published by Cherish Editions. You can learn more about her story at www.adelaideperr.com and follow her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Gisel Josy, the author of Why Can’t You Hear Me? My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder & Anorexia Nervosa
It was like having a therapist on hand all the time and all you had to do was pick up a pen and write.
Writing about mental health wasn’t something that crossed my mind for a large part of my journey, but as soon as I started jotting down my ideas it felt like a huge relief. It felt natural, almost second nature to me. Writing was not only a place of refuge, but it also helped me share my journey in hopes I can inspire others. It was like having a therapist on hand all the time and all you had to do was pick up a pen and write. Sometimes finding the words to sum up how you’re feeling and talking to someone about it is hard, especially when you’re told that others have it worse. I turned to writing to unclutter and find peace of mind.
Gisel Josy is a survivor of Anorexia Nervosa and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). She is passionate about dispelling stigma and misunderstandings around mental health, and has shared her personal story in Why Can’t You Hear Me? My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder & Anorexia Nervosa published by Cherish Editions.
Rachel Townsend, the author of Finding Frank: A Memoir
Just go for it! Take one small step, open a blank document on your laptop, write the title and begin.
Almost fourteen years ago, I found myself catapulted into a crisis I was completely unprepared for. On that very dark day, my husband took his own life with me and our five-year-old twins downstairs in the house.
In the weeks and months that followed his death, I became a dark shadow going through the motions, stuck in a terrible nightmare. The trauma of my husband’s death took me to a very dark place and I found myself clinging onto sanity by my fingernails. Only the welfare of my very young children kept me from descending further into the murky quagmire of my fragile mental state.
Soon, I began to search for help and eventually, I found a local S.O.B.S. group who would meet on the first Tuesday of every month. However, I never found the courage to join them and, in the end, it was a book lent to me by a friend that made all the difference. The book was written by the wife of a doctor who had taken his life and so much of what she wrote about struck a chord with me. In the end, she found peace and her words gave me hope.
That feeling of hope stayed with me and was strong enough to plant a seed in my mind — one day, I would also write about my own experiences. Twelve years later, I did just that when Finding Frank was published on October 1st 2020.
I believe that every one of us has a story to tell. For me personally, writing about my mental health was an entirely liberating experience. I emersed myself in the process, allowing myself to be raw and vulnerable. Often, I would re-read what I had written and sometimes I would break down because it was “me” experiencing all those terrible things. Oddly, this new perspective created a kind of safety zone. I became the observer of my experiences rather than the one experiencing them. I cannot fully explain the catharsis that this objectivity allowed.
My message to those of you who are thinking of embarking on a similar journey is…just go for it! Take one small step, open a blank document on your laptop, write the title and begin.
Rachel Townsend is the author of Finding Frank: A Memoir published by Cherish Editions. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
All the authors featured are published by Cherish Editions, a self-publishing service for inspirational mental health, wellbeing and personal development books.
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Where Do We Go From Here?: An Inside View of Life in a Mental Health Hospital
Why Can’t You Hear Me?
Finding FrankProduct on sale