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Hayden Quinn: Mental Health Musings 2024

Those of you who followed last year’s Sapphic Fiction February may recall Hayden’s first interview with me. We touched briefly on mental health in writing then, especially given that Hayden (she/her) has a degree and a career in Psychology, and that she’s also posted a series of videos about self-harm on YouTube, on a channel called The Blade And Beyond. Mental health runs as a theme throughout a lot of her books, and what better time to interview her again than Mental Health Awareness Week? After all, Hayden has a lot to say about mental health…

Hayden, please tell me more about your book!

Riley the PI. Riley struggles a lot with self-harm, and a general feeling of being worthless and unworthy of love due to a serious trauma at a young age. I was hesitant to give her a formal diagnosis, I didn't necessarily want to write her with one in mind and then get something wrong - trauma is so complex and experiences can differ so much from one person to the next - but I think her experiences/symptoms correlate the most with PTSD.

What does mental health mean to you?

I view mental health as our emotional and mental wellbeing, in the same way we all have physical health, we have mental health. The term itself is a neutral one, though I've met some people for whom even discussing 'mental health' is scary. It's something we all need to put effort into maintaining and working on, it's important to do little things day-to-day to maintain positive mental health just as we do exercise and eat well for physical health. It isn't easy and it can be a lot of work, and I do think it's something that should be taught in schools from a young age to help develop those skills.

Why did you choose to write about mental health in your books?

It's a topic I've always been interested in, from a young age I was aware of people in my family who struggled with mental health difficulties and I knew it was a field I wanted to work in. I've always used writing as a way to process emotions and things that happen in my life, so when I began to seriously write novels, it made sense that the first one (Ways To Fall Apart) came out of a difficult incident in my family. As I'm so passionate about the subject of mental health, it just makes sense that it's a theme throughout my books.

Is there anyone, or any book, that inspired you to write about mental health?

No one person in particular, however a few people close to me have had experiences that I felt were important to write about. For example, though what happens in Riley the PI is purely fictional, I know and have worked with people who have unfortunately been through similar experiences and who have experienced PTSD symptoms in a similar way to her. Trauma, and the effects it can have even many years later, is something that I don't believe is talked about enough and so I wanted to write about it to try and inspire at least a couple of conversations about it. As a society we aren't great at discussing mental health/mental illness, and when we do it tends to be about 'safer' disorders such as anxiety and depression and it's a huge step forward that these are discussed but it's good to shed light on other experiences too.

Tell me about your research process. What did you do to make sure your mental health representations were accurate?

With Riley, a lot of the self-harm side is based on my own experiences and feelings. There isn't a lot written about self-harm and it tends to veer towards young people - which, again, is important - but I'd like to see more representation of older people who struggle with it. That's something I really appreciated about your latest novel actually, Katherine! I also did a lot of reading around the subject of trauma and ways it can present, which was easy because I find it so interesting, and I tried to bear in mind the people that I've worked with too. I have the major privilege of people sharing their stories with me in my day job and I'm constantly learning from them.

Do you have any more intentions to write about mental health in the future?

Absolutely! I can't imagine writing without including something in this area to be honest. I have two WiPs on the go at the moment and both deal with trauma to an extent. One also deals with anger and shame, while the other considers the affects it can have over the course of a lifetime. I also have well-planned ideas for Riley's 2nd and 3rd adventures which I'm really looking forward to writing! The 2nd will definitely be a little bit lighter in a way (not that that's difficult to achieve in comparison, let's be honest!) and will explore different ways to work through how she's been feeling. I realise that doesn't sound light haha but there's so much out there, there's no reason it can't be a little bit fun too!

Lastly, why did you pick that specific condition to represent in your book? 

OK, I'm going to be a little bold and answer this as honestly as I can! Although mental health stuff has always been a theme in my writing, there's a clear theme more recently and in my answers here, that trauma/PTSD is at the forefront. I was finding that a lot of my ideas and characters I was developing were going in that direction and I hadn't really stopped to consider why beyond 1) I find it interesting 2) people I know who've dealt with it. In recent months I've been getting to grips with some personal stuff that I'd been suppressing and uncovering the impact of some of my own experiences and it's made me realise that that is likely the reason why it keeps coming up in my writing. It may be that once my current WiPs are completed that my focus shifts to other areas within mental health, there's other conditions I'd be interested in writing about that I haven't yet, such as OCD, which I've had since childhood.

If you are worried about your mental health, or that of someone around you, here are some helplines you may find useful.

If you’d like to read more books about mental health, I have a list of Sapphic-themed books with mental health rep, which you can find here. Please also check out my books, The Summer We’ve Had and Love You However, both of which have strong mental health themes, discussing Dissociative Identity Disorder and gender-dysphoria-fuelled self-harm, respectively.


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