Why are we so hesitant to have mentally-ill people in our media? Why do writers insist on using them as a tragic plot point or an evil antagonist instead of portraying them as regular people? For decades, it’s been no secret that this is the case; it picked up speed with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and it’s not about to stop any time soon. So why is it so important that we do something about this trend, and what can we do?
Remember what your parents taught you (if you were lucky): just because something is different, or you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s bad. Just as physically disabled people are not their disabilities, the same can be said about mental illnesses. They’re not a tragic song for others to sing; they’re people with aspirations, families, and feelings. Whether someone has anxiety, schizophrenia, or PTSD, they deserve to be treated on the basis of their (intentional) actions. Treat others the way you want to be treated (kindergarten does have meaningful lessons after all). And that means not reducing them to shallow, cruel stereotypes.
As an example of good representation, take Ava from Ava’s Demon.
(Comic by Michelle Czajkowski)
The creator, someone who has experience with depression, has gone a not-so-subtle but effective route by making the root of Ava’s problems a malevolent demon in her head. Ava is troubled by self-esteem issues, isolation, and violent tendencies because of said demon, and she has a heavy task to carry out in order to get the different life she desires. However, she is also capable of being clever and determined despite everything. In short, she feels like a real person.
On an optimistic note, I see people writing characters with mental illnesses- and not rude caricatures- at an increased rate in this day and age, and people are increasingly receptive. They’re out there, and we need to take note.