Norman Bates, a prime example of a man with a mental illness in horror fiction.

I’ve been wanting to do a post for a while now that examines horror or literature but wasn’t my usual Reflections or Writing post. And then I read this article not too long ago on how mental illness is portrayed in anime (surprisingly anime takes a very honest and powerful take on the subject) and it got me thinking. It’s no secret that mental illness—or its more common designation, “insanity”—has been a huge part in horror fiction since the earliest days. The problem is, most of it tends to be pretty negative portrayals.

This is actually pretty sad, to say the least. Approximately one in three people worldwide will show enough symptoms to qualify as having a mental disorder at some point in their lives. In the United States alone, that number is nearly is nearly one in two. And a majority of these people are nonviolent. I should know. I’ve known various people throughout my life with some form of mental illness, both family and friends, and I have been open in the past about being on the autism spectrum myself. None of these people I know would hurt a fly, and I could never hurt anyone outside of one of my own stories.

This is quite different from horror fiction, where we have a variety of characters with all sorts of mental illness–Annie Wilkes, Norman Bates, Jason Voorhees, etc.–who are as violent and dangerous as they come. What gives?

So I’m going to do a series of posts, over the many months, about how mental illness is portrayed within horror fiction. Now, I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I’m a horror novelist. And God knows I haven’t seen or read every horror story out there. Not even some of the classics. But like I said, I will try my best to go over this subject with the respect and care it deserves. I will do case studies, maybe make some recommendations, and maybe even ask the question: is the portrayal of mental illness in horror fiction good or bad.

And if one can write characters, particularly villains, with mental illnesses. And by one, I might mean me.

In the meantime, if you, my Followers of Fear, can give me any recommendations to help me write this series of posts–whether it’s films or books to check out, articles that have already gone over the subject, etc.–let me know. I could use all the help I can get for this massive undertaking.

Heck, if you’d like to write a guest post, I’d be more than willing to consider it.

That’s all for now. In addition to this series, I’ve got a bunch of posts I plan to put out over the coming days and weeks, so keep an eye out for them! Have a good week, my Followers of Fear.

  1. Cool project.
    I think the thing most responsible for mental illness being portrayed so poorly is the news.
    You hear of school shooters, murders, rapes etc and the news always draws attention to them having a mental illness.
    In many ways it’s a given. Sane people don’t shoot up schools. But frequent reports lead to people thinking that mental illness= violence, which is statistically bullshit and would mean that every criminal act is by someone with a mental illness.
    Ultimately you made a good point in that people can be mentally ill at some point in life, it can be a phase rather than a life sentence.

    • You do hit on a good point. Whenever a tragedy like a shooting occurs (and it can’t be linked with Islam or it can be linked to guns), mental illness is often brought up by the media and politicians. However, I feel that’s a symptom of a bigger issue: the stigma of mental illness. However, I will probably be talking about the media’s role in perpetuating this stigma when I post about this subject again. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Adan Ramie says:

    As someone who has long struggled with a family history of mental illness, I’m sure I’ll have something to say at some point. I can’t wait to read more about what you uncover and decide in your mental illness series, and I’ll be sure to add to the conversation when I can.

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