HWA Mental Health Initiative
In June 2022, the Horror Writers Association launched its Mental Health Initiative, comprising, resources, and activities intended to promote positive mental health, foster the concept of hope, and challenge the stigma of mental illness in the horror genre. The initiative, run by the organisation’s Wellness Committee, is an ongoing programme of work.
In the initiative’s first year a dedicated webpage for resources was established on the HWA website, and Of Horror and Hope, a downloadable anthology of poems, flash fiction, and personal reflections on mental health by HWA members was published. Ongoing activities include “Holistic Horrors”, a monthly column in the organisation’s newsletter, panel sessions at conferences and festivals, as well as articles and blogs published in the wider genre community.
“The HWA should be commended for being bold in its approach to tackling the stigma of mental illness in the genre,” says Wellness Committee Co-chair, Dave Jeffery, who spent 35 years as a mental healthcare professional in the UK’s National Health Service. “To my mind, it is the first time such an initiative, with a specific focus on hope and recovery, has been developed for the horror community, and there are currently discussions as to how the Wellness Committee can develop further resources over the coming years.”
Jeffery’s co-chair, New Zealander Lee Murray, agrees: “Our intent is to promote positive images of mental health in horror, and to create an environment of understanding and compassion. For me, as a sufferer of anxiety and depression, inclusion is extremely important—that notion of lifting something up to the light, so we realise that many of us experience the same things, and that we’re not alone.”
Former HWA President, John Palisano, says “The HWA’s Mental Health Initiative is exactly the sort of support and resource the organization should be offering members. It means a great deal to me personally to see this come to be, as it’s as important as things get. I’m beyond grateful to those putting so much effort into this and I have all faith this will be an extremely helpful initiative for many.”
The initiative’s logo, created by Australian horror artist, Greg Chapman, features Poe, arguably the father or horror, bathed in comforting yellow light, with the HWA’s raven on his shoulder. “The concept of this logo and, by extension, its committee and services, is to be a guiding light, and for the HWA to always be there on members’ shoulders supporting them,” says Chapman of his design.
A WELCOME FROM THE WELLNESS COMMITTEE
Reports suggest that 10.7% of the global population suffers with some form of mental illness (Our World Data, 2017). Those who endure mental health issues can often feel alone and disempowered by societal misguided perspectives of what mental illness is, often leading to social exclusion and stigmatisation.
The association between mental health and creativity is one that is often cited in studies and is certainly raised as an issue amongst the HWA membership through social media. An important aspect of mental health recovery is the fostering of hope. This is achieved by offering opportunities for empowerment.
With this in mind, the HWA’s Mental Health Initiative aims to raise awareness of mental health and mental illness, exploring ways in which the membership can feel empowered and informed. To date, the initiative comprises:
- A dedicated Mental Health Initiative webpage where members can access centralized information relating to the initiative including the Mental Health Initiative Charter, a series of statements from the Wellness Committee clarifying the aims of the project and how we as an organization intend to achieve them.
- The ‘Holistic Horrors’ News Column featuring a monthly round-up of mental health related activities conducted by the HWA Wellness Committee and the wider membership. These articles are published in the HWA Newsletter and later reprised on the Holistic Horrors blog.
- The ‘Holistic Horrors’ Blog where guest HWA members share their experiences and insights into writing and mental health and, in some instances, share their own personal experiences of mental health issues.
- Of Horror & Hope, a curated anthology featuring original flash fiction, poems, and personal vignettes from HWA members that will be available for free as a downloadable eBook from the dedicated webpage. Excerpts and teasers will also feature heavily on the HWA social media platforms.
- Dedicated resource links to external mental health charities and professional organisations both in the US, UK and other territories where the HWA has membership representation. This will be accessible via the dedicated webpage.
- Panel Discussions are offered at in-person and virtual conventions and festivals, such as StokerCon. Where possible, panel reports will be published in the monthly HWA newsletter, so that members will be able see what themes and topics were discussed.
- Community Engagement is intrinsic to promoting the initiative and many high-profile genre sites have agreed to support the launch by either publishing the HWA Press Release, releasing mental health articles from HWA members, or interviewing members of the Wellness Committee.
- Notable Works, in keeping with a tenet of the HWA’s Mental Health Charter, aims to “develop over time a recommended reading list of publications as good practice examples when writing about mental health in the horror genre.” Members are invited to submit their reviews of novels, novellas, poetry, and non-fiction to the HWA Notable Works Review Submission Form where it will be assessed by our Notable Works Review Panel for inclusion on our Notable Works page as a resource for writers.
The Wellness Committee hopes this platform of activities will become a go-to place for members to access features that inspire and motivate, and also offer a comprehensive list of resources that may offer support when needed.
As an organisation, we can help support each other and give every member struggling with their mental health, and those who want to know more on the subject, the means to do so. Together, let’s make the stigmatisation of mental illness a thing of the past by empowering our members who endure it on a day-to-day basis.
Let’s keep talking about it. Let’s give people hope.
Welcome to the HWA Mental Health Initiative.
Lee Murray & Dave Jeffery (Co-chairs of the HWA Wellness Committee)