Depression, Suicide and Sexual Abuse in Science Fiction/Fantasy

Depression, Suicide and Sexual Abuse in Science Fiction/Fantasy

By Susan Cartwright

Have you read The Hunger Games? Depression, suicide and yes, sexual abuse are themes in this bestselling trilogy. What happens to children and adults after they face stresses that cause mental breakdown? And what can be done for someone who is in fact, broken? What about guilt and redemption? Because you know, for every abuse there is an abuser. Can an abuser be redeemed? How about a murderer or a pedophile?

That is what is extraordinary about sci-fi and fantasy: nothing is off limits. Sacred cows are shot, taboo subjects are explored and skeletons are dragged from the closet – often in an exciting and adventurous way.

These human failings and issues fascinate us. Yet why are they so difficult to talk about in real life?

Shaun Farrell asked what my book was about. I told him (off the air) that is was about guilt and redemption, depression, sexual abuse and suicide. He said, “Really?” and I replied “Yes, but I don’t want to tell my readers that!”

Why not? Because if you ask people if they want to read a book about depression, sexual abuse and suicide they would reply not only, “No!” but “Hell no!”

Wolf Dawn is a sci-fi adventure and dark romantic fantasy. But it also envisions a future where one world has found a solution to the injured mind, the broken spirit and disturbed soul. “Wolf Dawn” is controversial because these themes are controversial. At least they are when people actually talk about them in the real world – which, to be fair – they generally don’t.

The Hunger Games is a young adult sci-fi novel that confronts hard truths. Thank you Suzanne Collins for addressing controversial issues and making them popular! Due to her endeavors maybe in the future more people will feel comfortable discussing such taboo subjects.  We may deny it, and certainly most avoid talking about it– but mental instability due to trauma is here right now folks – and not likely to go away anytime soon.

Perhaps it is a matter of nomenclature. Depressive characters can just be sad or upset. Many protagonists doubt themselves or their sanity. Some have been tortured or abused. But whether it is called mental health issues, or just living life issues, most good books – whether they say so or not, deal with human shortcomings.

Hands up if you have experienced a depressed mood. Sleeping difficulties? Always tired? Feel worthless? Experienced any thoughts of death lately? One in ten Americans report they are depressed. Not you? Okay then, what about a family member, colleague or friend?

How about suicide? Know anyone who killed themselves? It is the tenth leading cause of death in America. These are actual deaths, of course, and under-reported due to both religious and social pressures. These figures don’t account for attempted suicides or what is termed, “deliberate self-harm.” Know anyone who is so traumatized they cut themselves? Or perhaps jump in front of cars? Or off buildings?

Every two minutes, someone in America is sexually assaulted. Happily this statistic has fallen by 60% since 1993. However, it is estimated that there are 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America today. That is 19% of Americans. This is also an extremely under reported statistic. What is the real amount do you think? Thirty percent? Forty? But even at two people for every ten, surely you know someone who is affected by sexual abuse?

These issues have always been relevant. They are underlying themes of many bestselling novels. But should an author advertise the fact? Humm. Perhaps not.

Wolf Dawn addresses these issues not unlike The Hunger Games does. People suffer. People break, mentally, physically and spiritually. Luckily the people in my world have real solutions to this dissolution.

But if you prefer, call Wolf Dawn a Science Fiction Dark Romantic Fantasy Adventure! I do.


Susan Cartwright is a Registered Nurse. She has worked numerous areas including jails, emergency departments, and psychiatric emergency.

She is also a sponsor of Adventures in Scifi Publishing! So check out Wolf Dawn and leave your thoughts about the power of SFF to explore human tragedy.

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  1. Jeremy Wilks says

    Depression, sexual abuse and suicide are (unfortunately) part of everyday life for most people. If anything will make these terrible aspects of humanity less prevalent as time goes on, it is communication and open discussion on the subjects, not just between doctors and patients, or victims and counsellors but between everybody who has been affected or who knows someone who has been affected. Keep up the good work!

  2. Great post Susan. I love that as a genre SFF is free to discuss all these issues and more. What I want to know is how much stock to people place in the issues being discussed as a reflection of our own society?

    As you say, due to marketing reasons people will people champion a book like The Hunger Games for reasons like it is the cool futuristic story about kids killing kids, but how many people will champion it that way because it is the only message they can identify? Are we in a position we can start being more overt about the dark themes being explored in the book, or do we still have this unspoken truce with the “literati” where they will not mock the genre provided we don’t say that our books should be treated as more than a romp through the wilderness?

  3. Thanks Jeremy. Hey Ryan, you asked, “Are we in a position where we can start being more overt about the dark themes being explored…?” My answer is, we are getting there. I have a positive view that mankind is evolving. The world is only just beginning to accept that some people are gay and lesbian – even fifty years ago it an utterly taboo subject. Just like prohibition doesn’t work, keeping secrets doesn’t work. Some secrets will drive a person mad. A book that explores dark issues helps lance infected wounds, I suspect. A book that makes it okay to discuss and confront one’s flaws and problems might in time change the world. In my area of work I have witnessed the relief an individual experiences when they finally talk. Once they tell their secret and find that you don’t throw up your hands and run from the room in horror, that is when they start to get better. Telling and talking is over half the battle. Dealing with the situation is the easy part.

  4. J. Michael Riley says

    “Hunger Games” also plays a trick on us that has become a common-place in movies about controversial topics: It exploits our own morbid curiosity and otherwise-suppressed fascination with the taboo subject by allowing us to pander to our darker tastes under the guise of mutual (consumer and artist) condemnation. We are provided the moral high ground, all the better to get a great view of the bloody, gory action.

    By doing so, I think it makes us as readers feel guilty, and therefore complicit in the evil being portrayed. Once you realize this and go on reading, for you, the book has be come pornographic; that is, you keep reading because you, too want to see how the remaing contestants kill one another off.

    In that dark place in your inner screening room, didn’t you at some point realize you’d tune in to a reality show like this?

    Susan, you are right; we all have this dark, dark place within, and it’s important work to explore it through art. The first step in fixing what ails us may be to recognize that we cannot feel separate from and superior to either the victims or the perpetrators. That slimy shiver one feels is the recognition of the violence of our own soul.

  5. Ian Hogan says

    Yes, yes, yes to all you say here Sue!

    But as you mention in your essay what you have done in ‘Wolf Dawn’ is show us a culture that has found the causes and solutions for the mental and spiritual scars that assail us.

    I would agree the SFF genre is ideal for the exploration of all these themes. The reader can take an overview of all that is being discussed and does not feel the need to protect their cherished convictions and points of view.

    I’m a great believer in the power of art to communicate new realities and in so doing transform a culture.

    Art creates a context and a human connection that makes both the problems we face and the solutions we desire more approachable and understandable.

    We begin by entertaining the notion that our demons can be faced and overcome and then proceed to realize we can manifest our dreams and desires. This is all so much easier when revealed through the unfolding of a well told story with engaging characters.

  6. Mr. Riley! You sir have a way with words! You should be an author.

    I like this quote, “Although the most acute judges of the witches and even the witches themselves, were convinced of the guilt of witchery, the guilt nevertheless was non-existent. It is thus with all guilt. “Friedrich Nietzsche.

    I think the wonderful thing about a book is one can see the viewpoint of the abused and the abuser. Very liberating. Even more liberating to write such a book, give a satisfied sigh at the end and say, “Done. It had to be said and I’ve said it.”

  7. Hi Ian. You speak with an artist’s soul.Where would humankind be with out the joy of creating music, art, or cooking…? Do you think that soft, kind people are more sensitive and prone to mental illness? I wonder.
    I love your quote “I’m a great believer in the power of art to communicate new realities and in so doing transform a culture.” Never underestimate the power of an idea or an work of art. These things do change worlds. Thanks for writing in.

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