Will writing make me happy? Carolyn Jess-Cooke writes about mental health.

Acclaimed novelist and poet Carolyn Jess-Cooke writes exclusively for Cuckoo.

There is a lot of press around the number of writers who appear to have a mental illness. Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf – the list of writers whose literary brilliance was paralleled only by their inclination for self-destruction is unfortunately quite a long one. This has lead to some people thinking that writing either leads to depressive tendencies.

While writing can be a very solitary, introspective activity, it can also make you happy. That’s right. HAPPY. If anything, recent research has indicated that a lot of people naturally try their hand at writing precisely because it can help with even the most serious mental health conditions.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t tell a doctor or your parents if you start to feel down – you absolutely should do this – but it’s good to be aware that there is evidence to suggest that writing down your feelings can be a great mood boost. There are many different kinds of writing beyond genres (such as fantasy, crime, chick lit etc) and forms (such as poetry, novels, short stories) that have been proven to help with mental wellbeing.

‘Expressive writing’ is simply a form of writing that allows you to safely express yourself without worrying about spelling, grammar, or anyone else reading it: like keeping a diary. One of the main reasons expressive writing is so effective is that it gives you a space to get some things off your chest or out of your head – and by writing them down, you get an opportunity to reflect and perhaps see things a little differently.

What I’ve found, though, is that writing novels and poetry allows me to express myself, too. It’s not what I write about that makes me happy – that is, I don’t always have to be writing comedy – but rather the act of writing everyday gives me increased attentiveness and a healthier perception of the world around me and how I feel about it. Like anything, you become a better writer the more you practice it, and the great thing about writing is that you can do it right now. Try it out. Get yourself a notebook and a pen and write down some ideas for a short story. It can be really short. What kind of adventures would your main character like to have? What villains might s/he encounter on the way?

Have a go. See how you feel after writing. If you don’t feel happy, though, make someone who cares know that you feel that way.

If you are struggling with your mental health there are lots of places you can go to for help, advice or information.

Young Minds

The UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.

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Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.

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The Samaritans

If you need to speak to someone urgently, call The Samaritans on 116 123.

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Carolyn Jess-Cooke is an award-winning poet and novelist, and is also Lecturer in Creative Writing at Glasgow University. Her works include The Boy Who Could See Demons (2012), The Guardian Angel’s Journal (2011), and the poetry collections Boom! (2014) and Inroads (2010).

Tweet Carolyn: @cjesscooke