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SALT LAKE CITY — Many best-selling, award-winning authors such as Brandon Sanderson, Ally Condie, Sara Zarr and Shannon Hale call Utah home. This large community of writers is not only a force in the book world, but also a powerful voice for the struggles of mental illness.
“I think it’s time we be more open about mental illness,” author Jessica Day George said. “It’s time to start talking about mental illness like we talk about any other illness.”
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that “26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.” Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada. And nearly half (45 percent) of those diagnosed suffer from more than one disorder.
Robison Wells, a Utah author whose debut novel “Variant” made Publisher Weekly’s Best Books of 2011 list, suffers from four severe mental illnesses: panic disorder, agoraphobia (intense fear and anxiety in certain situations), depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
“My wife would find me curled up in a closet,” Wells said. “And my OCD has led me to self harm. Because of my mental illnesses, I lost my job and everything got worse and worse.” Wells’ writing also suffered. The first draft of his second book, “Feedback,” took six months to write only 20,000 words. The standard young adult novel is 75,000.
Though Wells makes a modest income from his writing, his family is still crippled by debt from medical bills, defaulted student loans, and money owed to the IRS. Wells is now under the care of a psychiatrist and he is doing better, but things are still difficult for him and his family.
Many of Wells' author-friends have rallied around him.
It's common. It's biological. It's not their fault. It's not laziness or a bad attitude or a result of bad choices. It's a disease like cancer or any other.
–Shannon Hale, award-winning author
Brandon Sanderson, fantasy author best known for his “Mistborn” series, was one of the first friends to step in. “Rob came to me and explained some of his difficulties,” he said. “I remembered Shawn Speakman who released the “Unfettered” anthology to help pay some of his medical bills and it gave me an idea for Rob.” Speakman, a writer and webmaster, used the proceeds from the “Unfettered” anthology, a collection of short stories by many well-known authors, to pay medical bill debt acquired from an uninsured bout with cancer.
Sanderson said, “I suggested we use some of my behind the scenes writing and that of other writers in an anthology. It’s something that readers will love and that helps Rob and his family.”
Soon many authors joined the project. All proceeds from the anthology sales and other offers such as dinners with authors and writing critiques go not only to help Robison Wells pay down his debt, but hopefully to help other authors with mental illnesses as well.
Newbery Honor winner Shannon Hale said, “I wanted to participate in this fundraiser not only because I know and like Robison, but because mental illness is a personal matter for me. Like most people, there are dear ones in my life who have to claw their way through every day battling a mental illness.”
Hale continued, “It’s common. It’s biological. It’s not their fault. It’s not laziness or a bad attitude or a result of bad choices. It’s a disease like cancer or any other.”
Other authors who happily submitted writing for the anthology include New York Times best-sellers Ally Condie, Brandon Mull, Lauren Oliver, Kiersten White, Robison’s brother, Dan Wells, and many more. To date, the fundraiser has collected over $73,000 of the lofty $110,000 goal.
Robison’s wife, Erin, said, “I am overwhelmed with the support and love given to Rob. Thank you seems small but just know that behind those words comes all the energy of my soul.”
Most of all, Robison and all the authors involved hope to spread awareness about the reality of mental disease. Author Josi Kilpack said, “Rob has not shied away from the true depth of his difficulties and in the process allowed many of us to be educated about what mental illness really is and what helps and what doesn’t.”
To learn more about the fundraiser or to purchase the "Altered Perceptions" anthology, please visit the *Altered Perceptions website. The fundraiser ends May 24, 2014.
Teri Harman, author and book enthusiast, writes a biweekly column for ksl.com and contributes book-related segments to "Studio 5." Her debut novel, "Blood Moon," is now available in stores and online. Join in the magic and chaos at teriharman.com.