Monday, January 11, 2016

Shattered Fragments: Anime and Mental Illness

I never set out to be an advocate for mental illness, it was never something I was passionate about because I didn’t understand it. As a matter of fact, it terrified me because of the stigma that is associated with it. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety that I really began to understand what it’s like to live with something like a mental illness, what pain really was, and what it’s like to live in a world that fears and misunderstands you. I may sound a bit dramatic, but when you’re constantly told that your condition is something of an imaginary concept and these feelings that you have aren’t validated, you get fed up and want to speak what is in your soul.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like to someone who doesn’t have a mental illness what it’s like to have one. I only know how I feel on my darkest days, and I am very different from someone else with a similar condition, see that’s what makes this so hard: no two people with a mental illness are exactly alike. What works for one may not work for another, it’s not an exact science; it’s mostly trial and error because the human mind is one of the most mysterious “organs” on the body.

The world hasn’t really been kind to those with mental illness, since the very first human came into existence we have feared and mistreated those who suffer with this condition. It’s been associated and portrayed in our society as a negative thing; television shows and movies depicting horrific asylums, crazy killer patients, and perverted psychologists (sometimes referred to crudely as “shrinks”). It also doesn’t help that a stigma has been in place for centuries. While researching the subject, I discovered that the first recorded Lunatic Asylum in Europe was the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, and it has been a part of London since 1247 when it was built as a priory. It became a hospital in 1330 and admitted its first mentally ill patients in 1407. Before the Madhouse Act of 1774, treatment of the Insane was carried out by non-licensed practitioners, who ran their Madhouses as a commercial enterprise and with little regard for the inmates. The Mad House act established the licensing required to house insane patients, with yearly inspections of the premises taking place. Back in America, the U.S. Library of Medicine states that the mentally ill in early American communities were generally cared for by family members, however, in severe cases they sometimes ended up in almshouses or jails. Because mental illness was generally thought to be caused by a moral or spiritual failing, punishment and shame were often handed down to the mentally ill and sometimes their families as well. As the population grew and certain areas became more densely settled, mental illness became one of a number of social issues for which community institutions were created in order to handle the needs of such individuals collectively.

This scared the crap out of me when I read it because we really haven’t come that far as far as the stigma and treatment of the mentally ill is concerned. It shows in our culture but it’s not obvious like some other issues that we deal with in society, it’s subtle and quiet.

Anime has been the only genre that openly deals with issues like depression, anxiety, psychosis, PTSD, and many other conditions. It unapologetically portrays it in a raw, gritty manner, not pulling any punches and it’s just…real. As someone who has been in this world for some time there is an authenticity to it, an authenticity that you just can’t find anywhere else. Here are just a few characters that I relate to, and characters that I think portray what it’s like to live within this often dark world. The following may contain spoilers so read with caution!

Yuki Takeya: School-Live!

Yuki is a classic case of someone dealing with PTSD and psychosis. The NIMH classifies PTSD and psychosis as so:

“ PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.”

“The word psychosis is used to describe conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality. When someone becomes ill in this way it is called a psychotic episode. During a period of psychosis, a person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed and the individual may have difficulty understanding what is real and what is not.  Symptoms of psychosis include delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear). Other symptoms include incoherent or nonsense speech, and behavior that is inappropriate for the situation.”
She sees the world as she wants it to be and not how it really is. After witnessing both her classmate Kurumi kill her senpai because he turned and the courage of her favorite teacher sacrifice herself to the zombies, Yuki completely shuts down and enters a psychosis where it is not the apocalypse and everything is as it should be: she’s at school with her friends, she regularly goes to classes, and she enthusiastically bounds through the hallways as if nothing has happened. The most tragic of this situation is her dealing with the death of her favorite teacher Megumi. She still speaks and addresses her as if she is still there, even having hallucinations of her. As the show progresses we find that slowly, Yuki’s world is collapsing around her and she is forced to accept the fact that her favorite teacher is in fact dead, and her life as she knew it has changed. It’s often very hard to watch and even the most experienced doctor has trouble with patients suffering with these conditions because as I said before: no two cases are alike.

Shinji Ikari – Neon Genesis Evangelion

Shinji, like me, suffers from major depression and anxiety. If he’s not isolating himself and questioning his will to live, he’s constantly seeking approval from his peers to make up for his sense of self-worthlessness. Going back to the NIMH, it has several definitions for depression, so I’ve somewhat formed my own: It is a condition where you feel worthless; no matter what you do it won’t amount to anything. You hurt and you want to cry but you have no idea why nor is there a good reason for it. It’s like a dark cloud hanging over you that is constantly telling you how stupid, worthless, and insignificant you are. Add anxiety into the mix and you have this feeling of falling and seeing the floor coming up fast on you—all the time. Shinji is constantly questioning his worth, he’s always worrying about what others think of him, and he’s contemplating that he’s just not worth anything. The creator Hideaki Anno, suffered from depression and psychosis. He actually wrote the original ending during a psychotic break; the show is tied as a projection of the author’s own mental state.

If you are one of the 350 Million People Worldwide that suffer from depression, if you are suffering from anxiety, if you are suffering from any sort of mental illness I want you to know something:
I’m here to say that it is okay to say that you hurt, that you matter very much, and you are no different than someone with any other medical condition; you just hurt in a different way. That’s the key to getting a handle on your Mental Health: remember that you matter, that there is someone out there who does care, and you story is an important addition to this world we live in.

Your story is important; you have something wonderful to give to this world. Sometimes anime can be a mirror of someone’s heart and soul. This is not weird; it doesn’t make you a freak. It makes you human. What are some of your favorite shows? Who in an anime has spoken to you? Let’s have a discussion. That’s how change happens, that’s how stigma’s get kicked out.

If you want to read more on this topic, here’s a great article from BuzzFeed:

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