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Perspectives: the “mental health day”

dftbaOne of the many things I love about my kids is the fact that they expose me to really fantastic literature, movies, music, and Youtube videos that I might miss otherwise. So last week I was reading a book co-written by John Green, the best YA author I’ve “discovered” in years. Not only does John Green write excellent fiction, but he and his brother Hank were true mentors/heroes to our two younger kids through their high school years. It’s a wonderful thing when you hear your teenage son listening to an enlightened, liberal video blog rant about literature, science, or history while holed up in his bedroom, even if you know he should be working on an essay for AP English.

With a background as a hospital chaplain, John Green is able to write some pretty deep and meaningful thoughts about very serious subjects in his novels, including the subjects of terminal illness, depression, and suicide. I always come away from his books with the satisfaction of spending several hours (I can never make his books last more than a day – just can’t put them down) with new literary character “friends.” Just as important, I always come away with new insight into the human condition.

In “Will Grayson, Will Grayson,” the following quote smacked me upside the head and stuck:

“I think the idea of a “mental health day” is something completely invented by people who have no clue what it’s like to have bad mental health. The idea that your mind can be aired out in twenty-four hours is kind of like saying heart disease can be cured if you eat the right breakfast cereal. Mental health days only exist for people who have the luxury of saying “I don’t want to deal with this today” and then can take the whole day off, while the rest of us are stuck fighting the fights we always fight…”
-John Green and David Levithan in “Will Grayson, Will Grayson”

This paragraph hit me where I live. My husband doesn’t have the luxury of one of those “mental health days” people (myself included) so lightheartedly talk about. Every day is a struggle. A day off for him, at least at this point in his illness, simply means a different setting for wrestling with the negative self-talk and defeatist feelings that live inside him.

I’m thankful to people like John Green and David Levithan for understanding this perspective and for writing about it in books that are important to young people (and their parents). As more people hear this perspective and perhaps gain some empathy, the stigma of brain illnesses like depression may finally begin to dissipate.


P.S.”DFTBA” is the mantra of the Nerdfighters. What is a Nerdfighter? Not someone who fights against nerds, as you might expect, but rather nerds who fight to make the world a better place. According to Hank Green, “We fight against suck… we fight for awesome. We fight using our brains, our hearts, our calculators and our trombones.”

Other awesome books by John Green: “An Abundance of Katherines,” “Looking for Alaska,” “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Paper Towns.” Read them.


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