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The Portrayal of Mental Illnesses in Literature & Media. Kellie Martel Malerie Dooling Peter Choi. Abnormality and Treatment. What is psychological abnormality? Field devoted to the study of abnormal behavior Goals are to understand and treat abnormal patterns of functioning

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The Portrayal of Mental Illnesses

in Literature & Media

Kellie Martel


Peter Choi

abnormality and treatment
Abnormality and Treatment
  • What is psychological abnormality?
        • Field devoted to the study of abnormal behavior
        • Goals are to understand and treat abnormal patterns of functioning
        • Deviant, distressful, dysfunctional, and dangerous
  • What is treatment?
        • Procedure to help change abnormal behavior into more normal behavior
        • Systematic process for helping people overcome their psychological difficulties
ancient views and treatments
Ancient Views and Treatments
  • The unearthed bones, artwork, and other remnants of ancient society showed that they saw abnormal behavior as the work of evil spirits
  • Thought magical beings controlled the world
    • Human body and mind was battle of good vs. evil
ancient cure
Ancient Cure
  • Because they thought abnormal behavior was evil overtaking the body the treatment was to force out the demon
  • Stone Age –half a million years ago
  • Trephination- a stone instrument was used to cut out a circular section of the skull
  • Purpose was to release the evil spirits that were causing abnormality
  • many early societies used exorcisms to make the evil spirits leave the individual’s body
  • The shaman recites prayers and pleads with the evil spirit
  • The idea was to make the person’s body an uncomfortable place to inhabit
greek and romans views
Greek and Romans Views
  • 500 B.C to A.D 500- Hippocrates taught the natural cause of illness
  • Thought brain disease led to an imbalance of humors
    • Yellow bile, black bile, blood, phlegm
    • Fluids that flowed through the body

These ideas were shared by Plato and Aristotle

middle ages
Middle Ages
  • A.D. 500 to 1350 Religious beliefs came to dominate views again as demonology returned.
  • Exorcisms were revived
    • Starving, whipping, scalding, and stretching the individual

After Middle Ages Demonology and exorcism ended

Focus shifted to Medical views and causes; treatment

in hospitals

  • About 1400-1700
  • German doctor Johann Weyer- mind was susceptible to illness like the body
  • Religious shrines were set in place – the people were treated humanely like todays community mental health programs but they could only house a small number of patients
  • Began to use Asylums –institutions for mentally ill
    • Started to overfill and became prisonlike with terrible conditions and cruelty
nineteenth century
Nineteenth Century
  • Reform and Moral Treatment
    • Focused on moral and humane techniques in order to respect patients; deserved individual care
    • Dorothea Dix of Boston (new laws and government funding)
  • But Moral Treatment Fades
    • Due to shortage of money and staff
    • Prejudice began to form against people with mental disorders
    • Public views worsened
twentieth century
Twentieth Century
  • Somatogenic perspective- physical cause
    • Lobotomy (cut of certain nerve fiber in the brain)
    • 1930’s inject insulin to induce shock and temporary coma as a treatment for schizophrenia
    • 1940’s electrotherapy
    • 1950’s psychotropic medications
    • 1970’s deinstitutionalization
  • Psychogenic perspective- psychological cause
    • Hypnotism and psychoanalysis
portrayal of mental illness through literature
Portrayal of Mental Illness Through Literature
  • “According to international research, mental illness tends to be portrayed negatively in the mass media in both news and entertainment media.”
  • Negative representations of mental issues cause negative images and stereotypes.
  • A strong link between mental illness and violence has been made.
  • Negative representations of mental illness also has an influence on community attitudes towards the mentally ill.
  • There is evidence that the reporting is improving, which will improve community attitudes towards mental illness.
the yellow wallpaper published in 1892
The Yellow Wallpaper(Published in 1892)
  • Story of a woman who has been locked up in a room with yellow wallpaper by her husband (who is also her physician)
  • The woman is possibly suffering from postpartum psychosis—onset of psychotic symptoms following birth of a child.

the yellow wallpaper cont d
The Yellow Wallpaper [Cont’d]
  • The woman grows to believe she must free the woman behind the yellow wallpaper—rips down the wallpaper and exclaims, “I’ve got out at last” as she circles around the room.
  • Although the story was written in order to show her doctors poor choice of therapy, the woman in this story is portrayed as a mentally unstable woman, who at times is crazy. The story makes one feel as though the family is ashamed of her and thus they lock her in the room.
of mice and men published in 1937
Of Mice and Men(Published in 1937)
  • Two migrant ranch workers, George and Lennie, hope to obtain freedom and purchase and live on their own land.
  • Lennie is mentally ill and has an obsession of touching soft objects, which leads to accusations of rap when Lennie stokes a woman’s dress.

of mice and men cont d
Of Mice and Men [Cont’d]
  • Lennie ends up killing a woman while trying to touch her hair and George and Lennie’s dream of freedom is taken away forever.
  • A negative portrayal of mental illness, which also connects mental illness to violence and danger.
one flew over the cuckoo s nest published in 1962
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Published in 1962)
  • Narrator “Chief” Bromden tells the story of the life in a mental hospital from an employee’s perspective.
  • Randle McMurphy is one of the main characters who is a rebellious patient in the mental hospital and spends most of his time fighting against rules.

one flew over the cuckoo s nest cont d
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest [Cont’d]
  • McMurphy is seen as the ring leader who gets people in trouble, causing one to commit suicide, and is also connected to violence.
  • Mental illness is once again linked to violence and danger.

wasted published in 1999
Wasted(Published in 1999)
  • A memoir of a woman who has been fighting with anorexia and bulimia her whole life.
  • Her mental instability and eating disorder leads her to drug abuse, promiscuity, and ruins many relationships she has with friends and family.

wasted cont d
Wasted [Cont’d]
  • Goes on rampages where she would starve herself and then binge, eating everything in her house, only to throw her food up shortly after.
  • Checked into rehab multiple times—would still find ways to cheat the system while in rehab.
  • Although she is seen as having a life threatening mental illness, the illness was not portrayed in a negative way where it makes others fear her. The author has written the book in order to help women and men avoid the illness that will last with her forever
other popular literary works
Other Popular Literary Works
  • Girl Interrupted
  • An Unique Mind
  • Prozac Nation
  • I’ve Never Promised You a Rose Garden
  • Many more…

portrayal of media
Portrayal of Media
  • Like in literature, in film mental illnesses are usually associated with things such as serial killers.
  • Mental illnesses are often portrayed negatively which creates new stereotypes and opinions of the mentally ill and their condition by the public.

a clockwork orange
A Clockwork Orange
  • An adaptation from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange written in 1962, describing the reform of a delinquent in the near future.
  • Takes place in a futuristic London where crime rates are very high. The government’s Minister of Interior tried to implement a new technique to suppressing criminal behavior and urges.

treatment from a clockwork orange
Treatment from A Clockwork Orange
  • Dr. Ludovico’s Technique: Based on real treatments.
  • Uses mental conditioning and aversion therapy to suppress id.
a beautiful mind
A Beautiful Mind
  • Story of a genius mathematician who struggles with paranoid schizophrenia and is awarded one of the most prestigious prizes in the world.
  • John Nash ends up entertaining the minds of M.I.T., however, his delusions and schizophrenia begin to overtake and obstruct his ability to possess a normal relationship with the people he loves.

  • Schizophrenia is a group of severe brain disorders in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions and disordered thinking and behavior. The ability of people with schizophrenia to function normally and to care for themselves tends to deteriorate over time.
  • Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia isn't split personality or multiple personality. The word "schizophrenia" does mean "split mind," but it refers to a disruption of the usual balance of emotions and thinking.
the aviator
The Aviator
  • Takes place in 1920s – 1940s in the U.S.
  • Howard Hughes is a film producer and a revolutionary of commercial airliners who is a germophobe as well as extremely depressed.
  • Germophobia is attributed to obsessive compulsive disorder. (Mysophobia)
  • Depression is a disorder that involves the mind and soma, causing both emotional and physical problems and may feel as though life is not worth living.

  • Today drugs such as Zoloft are used to ameliorate one’s OCD.
  • With depression it leads to his recluse like behavior trapping himself in his screening room, wanting to disappear and wanting to separate himself from the rest of the world, seemingly uninterested.

fight club
Fight Club
  • Adaptation from novel by Chuck Palahniuk Fight Club.
  • About a man who suffers from insomnia. Also shows signs of delusional thoughts and dissociative identity disorder.
  • Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness where the patient has hallucinations not multiple personalities.

  • Therapy:
    • Psychotherapy, Hypnotherapy, Talk Therapy
  • Drugs:
    • Antidepressants, Anti-anxiety medications.
  • No real cure.
works cited
Works Cited

Comer, Ronald. Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology. 5th ed. New York: Worth Publishers, 2008.

"Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper." College of Staten Island Library. Web. 16 Mar. 2010. <>.

Hornbacher, Marya. Wasted: a Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia. New York, NY: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1998. Print.

works cited1
Works Cited

Kesey, Ken, and John Clark. Pratt. One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1977. Print.

"Of Mice and Men -." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 16 Mar. 2010. <>.

Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. “History of Mental Illness.” 3 Oct. 2007. 5 Mar. 2010 <>

"Research: Media and Mental Illness." Mindframe - A Resource on the Portrayal of Suicide and Mental Illness. Web. 16 Mar. 2010. <http://www.mindframe->.