There is an established link between mental health stigma and poor recovery from mental illness. Stigma is hurtful and demeaning and drives those who experience it to isolate themselves and deters them from talking about their issues. This, in turn, fosters a climate of deterioration and impedes recovery. Therefore, it is important that, as writers of horror, we recognise this when depicting mental illness in our work.
The primary purpose of the Notable Books initiative is to provide the HWA membership with examples of genre literature that balance high-quality storytelling with sensitivity and understanding when depicting mental illness or mental health themes. Genre writers can use books on the list to give them an understanding of how to approach mental illness and mental health themes in their storytelling. The initiative is not intended to impede nor deter writers from using mental health themes in their works, but to help improve understanding and raise awareness.
HWA Members are invited to submit their reviews of horror literature (other than their own) which they consider offer positive, informed, compassionate representations of mental illness in horror. Works reviewed can be contemporary or classic works of horror from a range of subgenres, written in English, and which are readily available to readers. Member reviews should be submitted via the HWA Notable Works Submittable, be a minimum of 500 words, and include your analysis and personal reflections of why the work provides a helpful resource for genre writers who are writing about mental illness. The Wellness Committee Notable Books Review Panel will source and assess the reviewed works according to criteria listed below, which include the tenets of our HWA Mental Health Initiative Charter and the following reader guide. Approved reviews will appear on the Notable Books list as a reference for use by members. Please note that we will not be considering film projects at this time. Examples of reviews can be found on our HWA Notable Works page.
The HWA Mental Health Initiative Charter
Fundamental to this guidance is the HWA Mental Health Initiative Charter, against which all HWA mental health-related activities are benchmarked.
The aim of the Horror Writers Association’s Mental Health Initiative is to bring hope and promote inclusion for those who endure mental illness. The initiative wants to challenge a climate within the horror genre that has traditionally focused on poor and ill-informed representations of mental illness, and this is known to be a vehicle to perpetuate stigma in wider society.
The Wellness Committee will focus on the following core elements when designing and developing its promotions and activities:
- To promote a positive image of mental illness/health
- To challenge and reduce stigma associated with mental health/illness
- To foster a climate where mental illness is aligned with the same sensitivities and respect expected when considering equality and diversity
- To advocate that the HWA membership conducts sound research in the development of mental health-related themes in horror genre literature
- To be sensitive to the fact that HWA members themselves have experienced social exclusion and societal stigma
- To strive for a climate of hope and recovery through creativity
- To disseminate mental health materials and statements that are supported with a robust evidence base and/or an emphasis on the lived experience of mental health and illness
- To develop over time a recommended reading list of publications as good practice examples when writing about mental illness in the horror genre
The Reader Checklist
- Does the work demonstrate an understanding of mental illness and mental health? For example, does the book feature any insights via notes from the author, or in the foreword/afterword? This could also include author comments about their lived experience of mental health or illness.
- Has the author demonstrated evidence of research? For example, are psychiatric terms, treatments, and presented definitions accurate?
- Does the content feature stigmatising language to define mental illness? For example, psycho, schizo, etc? If so, in what context are they used? Is this from a character perspective or fundamental to the narrative? For example, does it aim to portray societal prejudice?
- Are there any references that indicate mental illness is automatically associated with violence? If so, is the context associated with point 3?
- Is stigmatising language challenged when it does arise? For example, does another character or narrator challenge such language, or counter it in some way so that there is balance?
- Does the work involve stereotypical environments and therapies, for example asylums and aversion therapies? If so, how are these portrayed within the context of 1-6?