‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’: A Must-Read for Mental Health Awareness Month

May 21, 2018

Nicholas McCardle, 21, is from West Virginia where he is currently a student at West Virginia University in the Health Informatics and Information Management Program. Nicholas serves as a student ambassador for WVU School of Medicine Professional Programs and holds a deep interest in the realm of healthcare. He plans on either pursuing an MBA in healthcare administration or JD, and hopes to become an advocate for improving children’s access to health care. In his free time, Nicholas enjoys painting & drawing, traveling, and spending time with his family and friends.

Trigger Warning: This article features a book that discusses depression, anxiety, and suicide. If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of hopelessness or suicide, know that you are never alone in your battle. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a great resource that offers 24/7 toll-free calling (1-800-273-8255) and online chat services. Or, visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, which offers a wide array of mental health resources that are readily available for people of all ages.

“I didn’t want to wake up. I was having a much better time asleep. And that’s really sad. It was almost like a reverse nightmare, like when you wake up from a nightmare you’re so relieved. I woke up into a nightmare.”

This is how the main character in Ned Vizzini’s ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ describes his depression. The feeling is one that many people experience and can find themselves relating to. Drawing from his own struggles with mental health, Ned’s novel is an honest expression of what it feels like to struggle through depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and uncertainty.

In his novel, Ned introduces readers to teenager Craig Gilner. Like any other high school student, he often feels overwhelmed by the pressure placed upon him to be successful. After earning acceptance into a prestigious school in Manhattan, the rigorous curriculum begins to overwhelm him, and he feels alienated from his friends. Craig finds himself slipping into a very dark place, as he is unable to eat and sleep. Voices in his mind and thoughts of death begin to plague him.

One sleepless night, he devises a plan to attempt  suicide by jumping off of the Brooklyn Bridge. However, Craig eventually visits the emergency room and is admitted to the adult psychiatric facility of Six North at Argenon Hospital. While Craig is slowly making progress, he begins to become anxious over what his peers at school will say about his absence.

Craig turns to art to help him pass the time, and it serves as a creative outlet to him. Ultimately, Craig realizes in a therapy session that he should transfer to a high school for the arts. His current school and its demands are the main source of his unhappiness and struggle.

As Craig’s time at Six North comes to a close, he has found a more positive outlook on life and confronted the source of his anxiety and depression. Craig’s art has become an anchor of safety, and it has given him not only an outlet, but a future as well. While walking home after his release, Craig realizes that he has made the “shift” back to what he considers a normal state of mind, and looks forward to what the future holds for him.

Unfortunately, the pressure placed upon young people to be successful in today’s world is no work of fiction. While reading the book, I was able to connect with this struggle. Numerous times I have found myself overwhelmed and anxious in both high school and college. Much like Craig, art has always been an outlet for me. Painting and drawing have always been my go-to de-stress activities.

Many of our youth can find themselves so overwhelmed that they may slip into depression and even contemplate suicide. In fact, according to Mental Health America, an estimated 1.8 million youth experienced severe depression in 2017, and suicide has now become the third leading cause of death in adolescents. However, Ned’s book gives hope to people of all ages that everyone has a purpose to live.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the book is that it opens up the potential for conversations on mental health among young people with their peers and family members. With such a stigma existing in our society surrounding mental health, it is important to make strides in diminishing it. Open communication about mental health topics is a crucial step in doing so.

Ned drew inspiration for “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” from his own personal struggle with his mental health. Much like Craig, Ned spent time in a psychiatric facility. That experience served as the basis for the book. By incorporating Craig’s therapy sessions into the plot, Ned helped to relay the message to his readers that it is totally OK to go to therapy and seek out help when you need it. No one should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed for taking care of their mental health. This book has helped to eliminate the stigma that not only surrounds therapy, but mental health conditions like depression and anxiety as well.

One of the greatest investments that we can all make is to take the time to complete a Mental Health First Aid Course offered by Mental Health First Aid USA. These courses help educate individuals on how to identify, understand, and respond to mental illness and substance abuse. You can find and register for one in your area here: https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/take-a-course/find-a-course/.

Interested in reading “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”? You can get a copy of it here!