Mental illness isn’t a joke. It isn’t a romantic idea that people live up to. It’s hard to live with as someone suffering it, and someone watching a loved one disappear behind it. But what characters actually show their viewers/readers the truth? And which ones allow those struggling with it to finally identify with a positive role model instead of a cruel mockery?
- Adam Raki, Adam (2008) Autism/Aspergers
This powerful film does everything right when portraying the internal and external struggles of an autistic. He has just lost his ‘carer’ and now he must struggle through life virtually alone. This film is a heartfelt exploration of how he grows to understand the difference between need and love.
As someone with autism, myself, he strikes many cords with me. People would ask me why I did this or that, and I never knew it was all part of my autism until I saw Adam do exactly the same thing. This film had cleverly shot scenes that portrayed how Adam was feeling internally, allowing neurotypical viewers to finally understand the everyday struggle.
Here’s the trailer, try not to cry.
- Elliot Alderson, Mr. Robot (2015-?) Social Anxiety Disorder, Clinical Depression, Addiction
Elliot Alderson is a troubled young man who just wants to stop feeling so alone. It’s heartbreaking to watch him crying in the corner because he thinks he has no one in his life. He will be at the door to enter his best friend’s birthday party, but end up walking away instead. This show reveals a character for viewers to empathise with and wish they could reach out to.
The reason why this is number two on my list is because it is so accurately and heart wrenchingly done as it hides behind a Matrix, V for Vendetta and [Spoiler] plotline.
Though I could have easily chosen Lion King because I love the film, I found this film to be much more powerful in portraying Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I won’t spoil it for you, but this film follows a boy suffering from PTSD and repressed memories he doesn’t understand. Instead of shrugging the past from his shoulders like Simba does, Charlie truly struggles under the weight of suicidal thoughts as he tries to understand where they are coming from.
It makes the viewers feel equally disturbed and concerned when they begin to empathise with him and understand the truth behind his past.
- Mr Monk, Monk (2002-09) OCD
Though the psychological world is divided about ‘Monk’, there is no denying it has made the world aware of such a serious mental illness. No, it doesn’t show the dark side of the mental illness and yes it does make it seem less of an illness and more of a quirk. Not everyone has a little bit of OCD. OCD is a potentially crippling disability that can cause people to starve themselves for weeks at a time.
But, Monk allowed people to understand and somewhat normalise a disability that would otherwise alienate the people suffering with it. Because of that, Mr Monk helps people with OCD become accepted back into society and even understand that there is help -such as carers or assistants- out there for them.
- Marlene, The Big C (2010-13) Alzheimer’s
Throughout the first season of ‘The Big C’, you grow to love the foul-tempered old lady who has more life in her than any of the other characters. She brings most of the comedy to the show. But the one thing that won’t have you laughing is her mental illness. Carefully plotted and shot, none of Marlene’s funny scenes seem to coincide with her mental health struggles. She brings the first bout of fear and heartbreak when you begin to notice her failing mind.
It’s not often Alzheimer’s is handled with clever care and sympathy in comedies, but this show pulls it off. Sadly, her ending is not as bright as the others’ in this list leaving the other characters in the show to wonder if they could have helped her sooner.
Honourable mention: Simon Tam – Though not mentally ill, he shows the struggles of a dedicated sibling as they try to reclaim the sister he once knew and loved. And still loves regardless of how rocky their relationship becomes.
But, overall, these characters’ most impressive point is that there is no real cure. Love does not fix mental health, it just makes it more bearable. These characters are far from the romantic trope that makes teenagers self-diagnose as having them. These characters make their viewers/readers aware of the true struggle and being able to overcome it for a time at least.
What characters do you think should have been on the list? What mental illness do you believe needs to be approached more often and with a gentler hand?
Image via: USA Network