Flipboard Magazine

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mental Health in Fiction

Mental health issues are widely found in fiction and movies; even psychological thrillers and mysteries have elements of mental illness in their villains and victims. Fiction is an enjoyable, sometimes vicarious way of exploring mental health topics.  A Google search brings up a few links to lists of well-known and some not-so-well-known authors and books featuring mental health issues. Two titles that I found on Amazon are: Next to Nothing: A Firsthand Account of One Teenager's Experience with an Eating Disorder by Carrie Arnold and B. Timothy Walsh and What You Must Think of Me: A Firsthand Account of One Teenager's Experience with Social Anxiety Disorder by Emily Ford, Michael Liebowitz and Linda Wasmer Andrews. These are both fairly current teen books that are highly rated. In Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek, also highly rated, Julia's mother is bipolar. This book also covers other sensitive issues when Julia's father brings home the Tomato Girl. Sally Warner's How to be a Real Person (in Just One Day), covers another teen with a mentaly ill mother whose father has moved out.

Mental health in adult fiction contains many classics and newer authors as well. There is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, which describes the author's own depression and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, which comically chronicles the misguided adventures of Don Quixote and his horse, Rocinante. It was published in two volumes, the second featuring Don Quixote's well-known sidekick, Sancho Panza. There are To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Newer works include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, which explores autism spectrum disorder; Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, in which the protagonist struggles with insomnia and finds relief by impersonating a mentally ill person in several support groups; and Kiosks Keep The Devils Away: A Novel About Mental Health by Donald Rothschild, a story about community responses to the mentally ill.

Almost everyone has heard of or seen Silence of the Lambs, which deals with antisocial personality disorder. Fatal Attraction, which features a woman with borderline personality, was another widely seen movie in the late 1980s.  What About Bob?, which came out in 1991, featured Bill Murray as a goofy, likable man with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The Three Faces of Eve and Sybil, which are two older films featured women with dissociative disorders. There are many movies that cover amnesia such as Mulholland Drive, The Bourne Identity, The English Patient, The Lookout, and Ghajini, which are all newer movies. A Beautiful Mind, is a fictional movie of the schizophrenic John Nash.  In television, Huff, Monk, Scrubs and ER all won awards for their  portrayal of people with mental health conditions.

Even though many movies give inaccurate reputations to the mentally ill, they are still a way to gain insight into their conditions.  There are many books and movies to choose from; they are available on booklists and movie databases. Wikipedia has a long list of books and movies, both old and new, with a "mental health fiction" search. If you enjoy this type of media, you can learn while enjoying whatever form you choose to enjoy it in.  I have only covered a few titles in this article; you will be able to find many more on the Internet, public library, or in your favorite movie store.

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