Using Fantasy Literature to Cope With Mental Illness and Addiction

by Patrick Bailey

Mental health problems and addiction often go hand-in-hand to cause a variety of difficulties. But a growing movement towards comprehensive mental health care has helped to shape this world in many ways. Some people struggling with mental health concerns and addiction can turn to fantasy literature like Harry Potter to help them overcome their issues. Here are a few reasons why this is such a powerful movement that may be the right option for you.


Shows a Unique Perspective on the World

Fantasy readers often see echoes of reality in the books that they read. This isn’t an accident, as fantasy writers draw upon real-world experiences to produce a unique look at the world. Often, this reality is a mirror of our own that can teach people new things about themselves. For example, fantasy books may use various metaphors and situations to explore mental health and addiction behaviors.

Take a look at the books of writers like Frank Herbert. His Dune series of novels features a fictional element known as “spice” that’s addictive if eaten in high enough doses. All the universe’s space pilots must eat this spice to operate, creating a problematic weakness that is exploited by others to gain power. This situation gives a very stark look at the world of addiction.


Takes You Out of Reality for a Moment

Fantasy literature uses the clever and almost unbelievably imaginative minds of great writers to create new and fantastic worlds of wonder. Many people going through drug addiction may respond well to these worlds and use them as a personal escape hatch. This respite from their tricky real-life situations is often useful to help work them out.

You might not label novels from the Star Wars or Star Trek series “fine literature.” And that’s okay. But both collections build fictional worlds for people struggling with addiction or mental illness to escape to. Just as importantly, they offer up rich characters like Captain Kirk and Luke Skywalker. The emotional connections readers build with the characters can keep them grounded and focused throughout recovery.


Enhance Personal Understanding

Fantasy is not total escapism, as many of its harshest critics claim. Instead, science fiction, horror, and fantasy literature use their respective mediums to explore different elements of reality. Usually, people who seem similar to those we know in our lives are placed in challenging scenarios and challenged to fight their way out. This unique perspective can surprisingly enhance your overall personal understanding.

Take Orson Scott Card’s legendary Ender saga. It features a young character growing and learning in the face of a great adversary. At every step, he’s placed into challenging situations. But he uses his intelligence to understand himself and his place in the world. Lessons like these can help those suffering from emotional problems and teach them to look inward for help.


Improves Your Imagination

As we age, our imagination may atrophy. And unfortunately, drug addiction also has a tendency to zap a person’s mental energy in a similar way. Thankfully, fantasy literature can help. These books are designed to expand your imagination and help to inspire you to do more incredible things. And that can have benefits for your mental health.

Take the beautifully written books of Ursula Le Guinn. One of the finest writers in fantasy history, Le Guinn weaved rich mythology, fantastic writing, and imaginative settings into her books. Getting lost in one of her novels for an afternoon is a beautiful way to boost your imagination and build a better understanding of potential mental health solutions that could work for your needs.


Builds Mental Resilience

Research has found that fantasy literature can increase a person’s mental resilience. While some people may retreat too much into a fantasy realm, others use the lessons they learned there as a way to enhance their real lives. That’s an important lesson for those struggling with addiction.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy provides a fascinating look at the power of mental flexibility in the face of addiction. Young Frodo Baggins is tasked with taking The One Ring to the mountain where it was forged to destroy it forever. During his journey, the draw of the Ring keeps him in a cycle of addiction. But Baggins stays strong and finishes his quest. Stories like this ring true with many readers and can help give them the strength of character that they need to recover.


Try Fantasy Literature for Your Treatment

If you’re going through drug addiction therapy and you think that fantasy may help you, talk to your therapist. They’ll help you find books that can help you during your recovery, whether you’re looking for escapism or something that mirrors your real-world situation. If you already find yourself rereading the Harry Potter series in order to cope with difficult situations, you could ask your therapist for advice on how to approach your reading in a more structured way.

As always, though, you’ll need to work with your therapist through traditional care methods. This option is crucial because you may need help handling withdrawal and minimizing abusive patterns of behavior. Fantasy literature should be considered a supplemental care method and not a singular option. That said, those who use it may find it provides many surprising benefits. In this way, you can overcome addiction using your interests.


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