Tag Archives: mental illness

When Writing About Suicide or Mental Illness or Addiction


I stumbled on an excellent article from aportiaadamsadventure.wordpress.com in which the author discusses college training for journalists on handling a suicide story. The author is applying that learning to her fiction.

Below are a few excerpts from the article. You may read the complete entry here: http://aportiaadamsadventure.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/writing-about-suicide/#comment-520

An article from the Poynter Institute written a decade ago remains one of the best on the subject if you are interested in reading more, but this is the quote that I always keep in mind when this subject comes up (which thankfully, is not that often, but still happens more than it should):

Mental illness is almost always present in a case of suicide. To report on suicide without discussing the role of mental illness is like reporting on a tornado without mentioning the underlying weather conditions. Tornados don’t whip up out of nowhere, and neither does suicide.

***

Just because context helps when writing, Statistics Canada and Health Canada obviously follow this subject very closely, and their latest numbers are:

Suicide is a major cause of premature and preventable death. It is estimated, that in 2009 alone, there were about 100,000 years of potential life lost to Canadians under the age of 75 as a result of suicides.

Research shows that mental illness is the most important risk factor for suicide; and that more than 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental or addictive disorder.1,2 Depression is the most common illness among those who die from suicide, with approximately 60% suffering from this condition.

***

The article writer is working on a fictional story set in the 1930’s. She asks readers for input about mental health support and treatment from the time. I reply to her request as follows:

Excellent article! You ask for insight from the 30’s. I’ll share a personal anecdote. I learned in my fifties about my maternal grandfather’s commitment to an insane asylum. I learned it by finding personal papers of my mother’s that referenced the event. My mother had them stashed away. Never in my entire lifetime had my mother told that story to me. Instead she had painted a picture for me of a talented man who was ahead of his time. From the same stash of papers, I learned my grandfather physically abused my grandmother. The societal code of the time was silence about anything untoward, especially if the family had any social prominence. So much so that long after my grandfather was dead, long after I was a married adult and a mother, my mother never mentioned the dark side or mental illness of my grandfather. I learned about it after my mother left her home, and I was cleaning out the place.

After sending that message, I recalled more about the story of my grandfather. It was set in the Great Depression. He was in the throes of losing the family dairy and farm. His wife died, leaving him to care for seven children from age 14 to a newborn infant, all while running a home milk delivery business (done from a horse drawn cart) and running a crop and dairy farm. It was in a time when a family grew their own food and preserved it, so a huge garden had to be tended and defended from pests, then harvested and put up. Kids had to get to school, be dressed and fed. The wee ones required care 24/7.

As my grandmother lay dying of cancer, my grandfather or my mother, the oldest child, injected grandmother with morphine to control her pain. I am uncertain about why he did it exactly, but my grandfather began using his wife’s morphine himself and became addicted. In the 1930’s, my grandfather’s addiction was treated as mental illness in the insane asylum. (I’m sure there’s more to the narrative that I will never know.)

All of this tragic story was hidden from me by my mother. She did tell me that after my grandmother’s death, grandfather fell apart and abandoned the farm and the children. She said my grandmother had been the glue that held the family together. After her death, the children tried to operate the farm, but, as children, they failed. Ultimately, in the midst of depression, the children were split up and sent to various homes, where they were grudgingly taken in and resented as another mouth to feed in what were difficult times.

The point is there is always a backstory to suicide. Often it is mental illness or addiction. And there is often a backstory to addiction and mental illness, too. When writing about the subject of suicide, mental illness or addiction, be sure to make the reader aware of the backstory, since it provides context for the current event you are writing about.

A Writer’s Cash Cow


Are you looking for that writing topic that has the potential to turn you from pauper to prince?

Consider the doomsday story.

According to CUNY physics professor Michio Kaku, the doomsday story is a cash cow that cycles around with intensity about every ten years. Remember Y2K? Today it is the end of the Mayan calendar.

(Make a note to self to check pop culture in 2020 to see what doomsday buzz has turned into a roar.)

There are real problems that get eclipsed by doomsday stories. Some of those problems are:

  • Heating up of planet earth
  • Melting polar ice caps
  • Increasingly rapid migration of the magnetic poles
  • Real help for adults with mental illness
  • Curing cancer and other life-threatening illnesses
  • Financial solvency for governments
  • Clean water
  • Weather changes

That said, if you are strictly a commercial writer, you have three or four years to check your societal crystal ball and decipher the clues telling what the next big doomsday story will be. Then write your heart out and ride the wave. The last five years have been lucrative for the Mayan storytellers. Maybe you will be my new rich friend the next time doomsday cycles around.

Response to Song Prompt “Calling All Angels”


Here’s my sudden fiction piece generated by Train’s “Calling All Angels.” If you’ve ever experienced a personal moment of desperation, you may identify with Hannah. Sometimes things intervene that cannot be explained away.

Angels

by Fay Moore © 2012

Hannah’s thirty. She has a two-year-old and a husband. There are no money problems in the home that any other young married couple isn’t facing. Everyone in the family has good health.

But Hannah is tired, so tired. And with a baby to chase after and a business to run, she doesn’t get caught up on her rest before the daily grind discharges her batteries again.

She shuts herself in the bathroom and cries. She has thirty seconds to herself before there is an intrusion. The baby gets down on his knees outside the door, puts his tiny mouth to the gap between the bottom of it and the floor, and starts calling through the crack, “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy.”

Hannah sits on the closed toilet lid, her face in her hands. Her crying turns to head shaking.

I can’t even go to the bathroom and have five minutes alone,” she laments.

Hannah gets up and unlocks the door. Her toddler scoots in and wraps his arms around her legs.

Where you are, Mommy? I look for you,” he murmurs.

I’m right here,” she answers, scooping him up in her arms. She forces herself to smile at him.

Honey,” her husband calls from the kitchen. “Where are the hamburger rolls?” He’s shoving things around inside the refrigerator.

Hannah carries the child with her to the kitchen.

There aren’t any. We used the last ones the day before yesterday. We’re out of milk and eggs, too. You watch your son,” she says as she hands the toddler off to her husband, “and I’ll make a grocery run. I’ll be back in 30 minutes. That’ll give the two of you time to make the burgers and salad. Need anything else?”

Yeah. A package of razors and a gallon of iced tea. Oh, and some pickles. Those sweet ones.”

Bread and butters?”

Yeah,” he says, as he puts their son in the high chair, placing a plastic bowl half full of Cheerios on the tray.

Hannah blows kisses. Her boy catches them, but her husband has already turned his back and buried his head in the refrigerator, rummaging for dinner ingredients.

Half an hour later, it’s dark outside. Hanna starts home with the groceries. She revisits the feelings she had while in the bathroom at home. She feels grim, then melancholy, then depressed. She begins to think dark thoughts. She grips the wheel with both hands, holding the car to the center of her lane.

She doesn’t know if it is her imagination, but she swears she hears conversation in her head. She is being urged to run the car off the road. She grips the wheel tighter.

I’m tired. I’m worn out. That’s all. I don’t want to die,” she says aloud, half praying, half trying to convince herself to ignore whatever fiend is messing with her thoughts. She’s crying again. Her shoulders begin to slump as her grip relaxes on the steering wheel. The car edges to the right.

At that moment, Hannah’s mind lets go. Though she sees nothing visible, she senses a presence, no, two beings, one at each forward fender. She is driving, but the sensation is that the invisible beings have control and keep her car on the road. She travels about a quarter of a mile with this impression.

Then, it is as if she has returned to herself and shaken off whatever it was that possessed her thoughts. She doesn’t understand exactly what just happened. Her mind tries to reason that she imagined the whole episode. But in her heart, she knows she nearly died by her own hand. Something, or someone, intervened to move the vehicle back onto the roadway. She holds fast to the steering wheel and leans forward, eyes riveted to the road.

Hannah is shaken, but determined to get home safely. She wonders what she will tell her husband. How will she describe what happened?

Angels?” she asks herself.