My 5 Biggest Issues With The Way 'All The Bright Places' Portrays Mental Illness

'Even though this book was well-written, and the movie will probably be good, this book still scared me.'

People who suffer from mental illness are more than just the "sad" or "anti-social" stereotypes. There is no face of mental illness -- your friend might be depressed, a parent or even yourself.

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By Camryn, 15

*This piece contains spoilers from "All the Bright Places"

By now, I’m sure it’s public knowledge that I’m the biggest book/film nerd to walk the Earth. When the two of them come together, I squeal a little bit on the inside. Film adaptations like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Hunger Games basically made my life.

That’s why I’m so torn on the announcement for the film adaptation of All The Bright Places. A New York Times bestselling young adult novel, it was pretty popular when it first came out earlier this year. Everyone was comparing it to The Fault in Our Stars and talking about how good it was. Good enough to garner Elle Fanning as the main character, Violet.

But there are a few issues that I had with the book -- and things that I feel need to be addressed before you go to see the movie.

1. Outdated ideas

This is very obviously a book about mental illness, which I thought was great -- before I picked it up. Mental illness is a very real thing, one that I feel is often swept underneath the rug. But what scared me about this book was that not much seemed all that accurate.

There are these two kids, Finch and Violet, who are both depressed/suffering from undiagnosed mental illnesses. The odd part was that this book made it out like these two could completely heal by going out on dates and talking about their lives.

Of course, depression is different for everyone who has to deal with it. So I didn’t really think that aspect was a deal-breaker. Things got scary when I realized this was the only way Violet and Finch seemed to deal with anything. Most of the adults in the book, from therapists to parents, just seemed clueless. No one knew what they were talking about, doing, or just didn’t seem like they cared about the kids at all.


Then there was the way the book treated medication. I mean, medication for mental illness is a personal thing -- it doesn’t work for everyone. However, when it does work, it can work wonders. Speaking from personal experience, I felt like Dorothy first stepping into Oz when my meds first started to work (complete with the ultra bright colored screen).

In the book, there’s a scene where Finch goes to a group-therapy-type thing. He looks at the other kids there, and makes a comment about how they looked too drugged up to function. That was weird to me. Not every method of treating mental illness works for everyone, but this book seemed to frown upon all of it.

2. Theodore Finch 

Let me get one thing straight, first of all. I loved this character. He was awesome and well-developed and just, well... great. Until a certain point in the book, where he didn’t seem to be a character anymore.

Normally, I don’t like to give spoilers, but I wish someone had told me this: Finch commits suicide in this book. And it didn’t seem like it was handled all that well. For one, he commits suicide right after his girlfriend suggests that he get some help. She then spends the rest of the book blaming herself for even suggesting it.

Then there’s the fact that, before he died, Finch left a bunch of clues around for Violet to find. From the point that she started looking for them, he started to fade from a well developed character to a concept. Instead of a person with his own struggles, he became a vague idea there to heal Violet. Something akin to a manic pixie dream boy, if you will.

3. It’s triggering (at least, for me) 

I wish that it were a thing to have trigger warnings in books or movies, because it would be seriously helpful. I read this book right before I went to a mental hospital because of my own struggles with anxiety and depression. It didn’t really help.


For one, I had no idea Finch was going to commit suicide. It freaked me out so much that I had a panic attack (another reason why we need trigger warnings). But it also triggered me because it reminded me of the long period of time that I wasn’t receiving help.

Look, depression doesn’t just go away completely. It’s always lurking in the shadows, like Shia LeBouf. But at least while I was in the hospital, going to therapy and talking about medication, I knew that I was getting better. It gave me a sense of hope.

This book was very realistic in the sense that I felt the hopelessness of the characters. I felt their pain, and for Finch, at least, I knew that it wasn’t going away. While this is a realistic, tragic aspect of mental illness, I wish it wasn’t one in this book.

Which leads me to my next point…

4. “This isn’t a book for kids with depression. It’s for kids with friends who have depression.”

Someone on Twitter told me about this review of the book, which is where I got this quote. Mostly, it was comforting to see that someone else felt the same way about the story.

This isn’t one of those books that you’ll read and be inspired to get help because of it. For me, that book was The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Charlie, the main character, suffers from a mental illness, goes to a hospital, and there’s hope for him to get better.

Not here. If you’re still trying to find reasons to stay alive, this book might just bounce you back to all of the thoughts you had before. And it’s not like My Heart and Other Black Holes, another book about teen depression. In My Heart, the characters decide that getting help is worth a try. And there’s hope for them.

But there wasn’t hope for Finch. Even with regards to Violet. She spends a good portion of the book dealing with Finch’s death. Which isn’t a bad thing, I suppose. But I hope that this film isn’t marketed as a story for teens with depression. Because it isn’t.

5. I really wanted to love it -- but I couldn’t 

Even though this book was well-written, and the movie will probably be good, this book still scared me. I know that The Perks of Being a Wallflower, both the book and film, inspired me to get help. But what about another depressed kid, who might go into this story? They might not know that you can’t expect other people to heal you.

What about the kids who are still recovering (like me), who think that this is a book about healing? I’m not saying that this book is bad, but that it might be spreading the wrong messages to its intended audience. I don’t want someone to go into this book and/or film and be hit with outdated or inaccurate ideas about mental illness and methods of treatment.

Consider this your trigger warning.

These are personal stories and only reflect the experiences of the individuals sharing them.

If you or someone you know is dealing with mental illness, there are ways to get help. Find resources, tips, and immediate help at Half of Us, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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