Mental Illness

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Is the content of mentally-ill writers and artists always more disturbing?

People who live with mental illnesses spend their lives in a state of heightened anxiety and stress, and if they’re creative, this often comes through in their work. Arguably some of the greatest contributions to horror, particularly in literature, were written by people with really severe mental health problems, among them Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft, and Caitlin Kiernan. Even works made by artists who don’t want their mental illness to be so obvious can be darker than they first appear. For instance, many of the deep cuts of the famous rock star Jon Bon Jovi, who struggles with depression, are much more disturbing than the songs that made him a household name. So, are all mentally-ill creatives fated to create dark, creepy, or depressing content? What specific aspects of a creator’s mental illness might inform the darker aspects of their work? Are there any mentally-ill artists whose art remains entirely untouched by their illness?

  • This is a super interesting idea. I'd also be interested in how we prognosticate mentally ill creators and whether we should attribute that to how they write, particularly with horror, which is fraught with messy portrayals of mentally ill people. I think about this especially about EAP and HPL. I don't know what Kiernan's mental health issues are, but she tends to be able to represent mentally ill characters very well. But because EAP and HPL were never formally diagnosed, it can be hard to attribute that label and therefore the extent to which it influenced their work. HPL's severe neurosis and illnesses could be attributed to his mother convincing him he was sick (psychosomatic) and emotionally abusing him, anxiety, some have suggested he was autistic, some combo, etc. His anxieties do seem to come through on the page, but I'd also suggest his philosophical thoughts on mechanical materialism also influence the bleakness of his work. – Emily Deibler 6 months ago
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  • I think this needs perhaps a psychologists perspective. Not all mentally troubled people focus on darker work. There are notable exceptions such as Robin Williams, Owen Wilson and Stephen Fry for instance that have excelled in comedic endeavours. It would be interesting to look at what makes certain individuals create the fa├žade of happiness and what allows other to really embrace their troubles. – AshleyStevens 6 months ago
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  • The conflation of Poe with his work is extremely problematic. Poe is not his narrators. Nor was he clinically mentally ill. There is no clear record of that. Poe had a difficult life and his reputation was damaged by the jealous editor Rufus Griswold, who was not even one fragment the writer or critic that Poe was. – rockandrollbob 6 months ago
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  • It also seems a bit problematic to not only lump every single artist or creative that has any form of mental illness under one umbrella but your thesis that they are only capable of creating works of art that is disturbing is somewhat offensive. To say that someone suffering from mental illness can only create art that is worrying seems diminutive to an entire section of society. Vincent van Gogh was clearly disturbed and yet created beautiful painting such as The Starry Night or Almond Blossoms. You need to rework this whole idea or at least remove "always" from the title. I'm sure this is coming from a place of genuine intrigue but please be considerate of the community in which this represents. – FarPlanet 6 months ago
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  • This is a challenging topic to discuss, but that's what makes it so very intriguing. As FarPlanet stated, it can be problematic with generalization if not written/discussed carefully. With that being said, I'd like to offer up my own thoughts on the matter. As someone who struggles with mental illnesses and is studying to be a psychologist, I think the writing CAN be more disturbing, but it is nowhere near always. From where I stand, a handful of mentally ill artists/writers write with a specific emotional depth that many people don't feel for themselves. Sometimes, the depths can be scary... Take psychological thrillers, for example. The mind is a scary place, and the ways in which it can be manipulated are far more terrifying. I would love to write extensively about this topic. I like that it can be approached by the audience, artists/writers themselves in addition to psychologists. It might be a good idea to first isolate the root question here before naming well-known artists/writers in order to keep the discussion open and relevant so as not to rub anyone the wrong way. – Abie Dee 5 months ago
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Mental Illness, Modernity and Now

The modernist period in literature saw a massive shift not only in the structural and generic elements of literature, but also in the thematic foci. One area that began to gain greater representation was the discussion of mental illness, especially through the lens of female authors. Great examples of this are Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway’, Janet Frame’s ‘Intensive Care’ and much more, Charlotte Gilman Perkins ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and more. We are almost 100 years on from these breaking edge works that helped shape a greater understanding of experiences of mental illness. The prompt I would suggest would be to look now at examples of contemporary fictional works that deal with mental illness and how those experiences and stories are creating new conversations.

  • I think this is a fantastic idea, and does a great job carrying through the tradition that found a strong expression in modernism. What also may be useful - at least in my opinion - would be to also venture beyond Freudian psychoanalysis that was en vogue during that time, and see rather the interconnection between contemporary psychology and literature. Maybe an obvious point, so forgive me if this doesn't help. But, given what we know about schizoaffective disorders and neurodivergences today, I would think many authors would touch on this. Is your focus mainly here on female authors? – KevinP 2 years ago
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Depiction of Suicide Narratives in Media

Shows like 13 Reasons Why and Girl, Interrupted romanticize mental illness and the experience of depressed individual. Gender often plays into these narratives, and the specific roles that are romanticized-the depressed, their hero/protector, and the idolization of their struggle.

  • I think this is really important to see. I would open this up to all mental illnesses. Specifically, I think To The Bone showed the struggles of eating disorders, how it effects you and your family and those around you without romanticizing it? It'd be fantastic to really look at what 13 Reasons Why did wrong and what other depictions do right. Does it just come down to what stories are told? Because the 13 Reasons Why story has A LOT of criticism in general. How it showed Hannah getting all that attention post-suicide, her blaming and guilting her peers when suicide is a choice, etc. etc. Just some thoughts. – M K Keane 2 years ago
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Mental Disorders and Illnesses in Children's Animation

What are some examples of representations of mental ilnesses/disorders in animations aimed at children? Who exactly are the characters that exhibit certain maneurisms of such things for? Are they for the children to idenify and connect with or for the parents to have an awareness and to help spot any symptoms?

The big example for both it’s animation adaptation and book is Winnie the Pooh. Essentially all the characters appear to be diagnosable with specific mental disorders; Eeyore is perhaps the instantly recognisable one with depression, but Poo exhibits symptoms of ADHD, Owl dyslexia and even Christopher Robin with schizophrenia.

Other animated characters that could be mentioned I can think of off the top of my head come from Pixar. There are various examples of depression in the Pixar film universe – Marlin(Finding Nemo, Carl (Up), Jessie (Toy Story) and Wall-E may exhibit some signs of OCD and/or anxiety disorders.

There are plenty of different animations that could be mentioned for this, but the real driving point should be the questions mentioned at the beginning. How can these characters be read in terms of what illnesses they may portray? Who are these representations for? What purpose (if any) do they serve and is it useful?

  • I feel as though this topic is especially important since the new character released on Sesame Street (or that has been announced to be, anyways, I'm not sure if she's on the show yet). Julia is a puppet new to Sesame Street meant to demonstrate the struggles of autism and help alleviate stigma towards it. Will children identify the character as autistic, or just another puppet? Is she there for the kids or the parents? – Slaidey 5 years ago
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  • I think one thing worth mentioning is whether or not the characters were intentionally made for children to identify with or if the character is only speculated to embody that trait. Like the aforementioned Winnie the Pooh characters or Julia from Sesame Street. – Austin Bender 5 years ago
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  • I think there are a couple different reasons as to why as to why an artist or author would depict character traits so diversely without singling them down to just one. For instance, to add depth and diversity to the overall dynamics rather than having a variety of essentially all the same character archetypes, by differentiating personality traits, not only does the plot to the overall story thicken, but also the intended audience is no longer targeted down to one specific person or point of view. In doing so, anyone experiencing the show may be able to relate to a certain character that might reflect a certain quality or aspect in their own life and take comfort in that, especially children who are easily influenced and captivated by what they are watching. A young child may not have the capacity to fully understand the psychology behind a character depicted, but this doesn't necessarily mean they are not already processing that information and learning to recognize certain behaviors that they will inevitably learn to recognize in the real world or within themselves. In most animated shows, someone going through a tribulation learns to overcome it all the while taking away a hard earned life lesson, the road to happiness isn't always painted in bright colors. – IsabellasIncendia 5 years ago
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  • Don't forget the film Inside Out. I believe there's already been some discussion on how those characters can help children understand mental illness (i.e. sadness governs the mother's head = depression, anger governs the father's = anger issues). I found it particularly striking that the little girl was unable to access her joy and her sadness, so anger pretty much took over. Anger is commonly a cover for other emotions such as sadness. I also thought that it was interesting that the movie demonstrated that there was a place for every emotion... and ALL of them were trying to help the little girl, whether or not we might perceive them as negative. Overall, it really encouraged healthy psychological functioning! – Laura Jones 5 years ago
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Mental illness as entertainment in mainstream media

An analysis of psychopathology as a plot device (particularly in horror films), a phenomenon I’ve come to identify as "sexy slasher" movies, and humanism (or lack thereof) in depictions of mental illness in mainstream television, films and books.

  • Mental illness is quite a broad spectrum. Perhaps choose to focus solely on psychopathy in horror films (or something similarly narrow). It would also be interesting to analyze what these portrayals do to aid or challenge the continuing mental illness stigma. – Laura Jones 5 years ago
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  • I find that many movies are consistent with characters with split-personality disorder (archaic name I know :) ), schizophrenia, or sociopath characteristics. The Silver Linings Playbook touched on the drama's of Bipolar Disorder and it's related spectrum. However, I feel that many say these depictions of mental illnesses are indulging in the stereotype. Although true in some cases, I would venture to say that most films and literature are now playing so much into the stereotypes that there seems to be the adverse effect happening. The stigmas are being dramatized to the point that they're proving themselves to be invalid and disproportionate. – rmadisonhaymore 5 years ago
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  • I can think of a couple of horror movies that have mental illness as a plot device, but not so much to mock people with mental illness. If anything it is just used as a way to create a sense of fear of the unknown in viewers. Also with a huge push in getting rid of mental illness stigma in the past decade, like rmadisonhaymore mentioned in her post, films like Silver Linings Playbook, I think that mental illness will be portrayed in a better light as a way to continue to reduce stigma and humanize characters with mental illness. – pallasngai 5 years ago
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  • In doing this topic, an examination of One Flew over the Coo-coo's Nest will be vital in some form, so have some mention and analysis of that. – JDJankowski 5 years ago
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