A Dozen Times a Fictional Character Perfectly Portrayed a Mental Illness

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

When Art Imitated Life

Mental illness is a complex and often misunderstood topic, but it has been portrayed in various forms of media, including fiction, film and television. Fictional characters have provided a unique platform to shed light on these conditions, educating and raising awareness to a wider audience.

Here are twelve times when fictional characters portrayed a mental illness:

  1. Bojack Horseman: This Netflix original animated series portrays the titular character’s struggles with depression, addiction, and self-destructive behavior. Bojack’s character arc accurately depicts the ups and downs of mental illness and the challenges of recovery.
  2. Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory): Sheldon’s character has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The show accurately portrays the intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors associated with OCD, as well as the impulsiveness and inattention associated with ADHD.
  3. Tyrion Lannister (Game of Thrones): Tyrion’s character is portrayed as having a drinking problem, which is a form of self-medication for his depression and anxiety. The show depicts the negative impact of substance abuse on mental health and the difficulty of seeking help.
  4. Patrick Bateman (American Psycho): Patrick Bateman is depicted as having antisocial personality disorder (also known as sociopathy), and the novel accurately portrays the lack of empathy, impulsiveness, and manipulative behavior that are common in individuals with this condition. The novel also highlights the dangers of unchecked psychopathy and the consequences of engaging in violent and criminal behavior. Through the character of Patrick Bateman, the novel provides a haunting portrayal of antisocial personality disorder and the psychological toll it can take on both the individual and society.
  5. Norman Bates (Psycho): Norman is depicted as having dissociative identity disorder (previously known as multiple personality disorder), and the film accurately portrays the fragmented sense of self and loss of control that are associated with this condition. Through the character of Norman Bates, the film provides a chilling portrayal of the potential consequences of untreated mental illness and the dangers of repressed emotions and traumatic experiences. The character of Norman Bates remains one of the most iconic depictions of dissociative identity disorder in popular culture.
  6. Rebecca Bunch (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend): The protagonist of this musical comedy-drama is portrayed as having borderline personality disorder. The show accurately depicts the intense emotions, impulsive behavior, and unstable relationships associated with this condition.
  7. Dr. Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs): Dr. Lecter is depicted as having antisocial personality disorder (also known as sociopathy), and the film (and later and television franchise) accurately portrays the lack of empathy, impulsiveness, and manipulative behavior that are common in individuals with this condition. Dr. Lecter is a highly intelligent and cultured individual who uses his charm and wit to manipulate those around him. Despite his criminal behavior, he remains a captivating and enigmatic character, providing a chilling portrayal of the dangers of unchecked psychopathy.
  8. Don Draper (Mad Men): Don Draper is depicted as having a troubled past, which contributes to his heavy drinking and womanizing. The show accurately portrays the link between childhood trauma and the development of substance abuse and other mental health issues.
  9. John Nash (A Beautiful Mind): in the film “A Beautiful Mind,” the character of John Nash is depicted as having schizophrenia, and the film accurately portrays the symptoms, such as auditory hallucinations and delusions, as well as the difficulties in managing and treating the condition.
  10. Eleanor Shellstrop (The Good Place): Throughout the television series “The Good Place” Eleanor struggles with feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, and a general sense of not belonging. These symptoms are consistent with certain aspects of various mental health conditions, such as social anxiety disorder and depression. The show highlights the ways in which these conditions can impact daily life and relationships.
  11. Carrie Mathison (Homeland): Carrie Mathison, is portrayed as having bipolar disorder. The show depicts the mood swings and impulsive behavior associated with this condition, as well as the challenges of managing it with medication and therapy.
  12. Susanna Kayson (Girl, Interrupted): Susanna is portrayed as having borderline personality disorder, and the film accurately depicts the intense emotions, impulsive behavior, and unstable relationships that are common in individuals with this condition. The film also highlights the importance of seeking treatment and support for mental illness, and the challenges that can arise in the journey to recovery. Through the character of Susanna Kayson, the film provides a nuanced and compassionate portrayal of borderline personality disorder, helping to raise awareness and understanding of this often misunderstood condition.

Photo byDad Grass on Unsplash

These fictional characters have provided a powerful platform for raising awareness about mental illness and its impact on individuals and society. By depicting the struggles and experiences of those living with mental illness, these characters help to break down the stigma and create a more compassionate and relevant social dialogue.

It’s important to note that while these depictions are often illustrative of the typical behavioral manifestations of mental disorders, they are still fictional representations and may not accurately or comprehensively reflect the experiences of individuals with the same condition. Diagnosing a fictional character with a mental illness is based on a limited amount of information. Thus it is not an exact science and can be subjective. While these characters may portray traits associated with certain mental health conditions, they do not represent an exact clinical diagnosis, and the stories may not have intended to depict a specific mental illness.

However, they can still provide valuable insight and understanding for those who may not have personal experience with mental illness. The depiction of these issues in popular television, film and fiction is valuable in that it raises awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by those living with mental health conditions and promotes the importance of seeking help and support. By breaking down the stigma and increasing understanding, these depictions can help create a more accepting and supportive society for those living with mental illness.

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

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