Mental health and neurodiversity are no easy topics to talk about. In fact, it’s the complete opposite, as a whole can of worms can be opened once the discussion goes on. Treatments and results are a vast and wide variety, and the general society may not be feeling the plight of someone whose chronic illness isn’t immediately visible. You may know someone, ranging from a family member to a friend online, who may have been showing signs of such things like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, PTSD, and many more, and may feel this topic as something genuinely close to home.
Trying to explain a specific mental health condition or disorder to a regular Joe or Jane, say, a co-worker, most find help deriving from famous TV shows or films so they can relate better. But, how it is portrayed may often end up garnering negative results than positive ones. It gets worse when the show in question emphasizes outdated or wrong ideas, treat neurodiversity as a joke, or replicate harmful patterns without careful thought. And then, there’s the often unfortunate end such characters meet. Some shows have been revealed to portray counter-productive ideas, such as suggesting that the medications aren’t needed, and all of the illness explained away with ‘aliens,’ despite there being clear and immediate causes. Such thinking may trivialize the very real threat people with a mental health condition face. On the other hand, others do better with presenting mental illness as still a realistic threat, despite the added fantasy/sci-fi elements.
In such stories, it is perfectly acceptable for one to have injuries or afflictions caused by encounters with the supernatural/fantastical, and yet be realistically dealing with the effects, instead of nonchalantly dismissing them as “aliens” or “magic”, much like the Dursley’s from the Harry Potter series, albeit of a more angry effect. Injuries/afflictions and the fantastical can co-exist in a story, but if done right, the latter doesn’t take all from the former’s reality. The TV Tropes site refers to this as Neurodiversity is Supernatural, which pertains to characters of a different brainwave type, are the ones often are the ones connected with the supernatural. It is easy to sweep aside neurodiversity as just ‘Aliens.’, or ‘Magic.’, But it can be valid to the fantasy element and still ethically portray mental illness. Inevitably, writers can even write in that such condition can be caused by supernatural elements, but there has to be a regard for the reality of the condition and make sure not to wash it over with the supernatural element.
Fantasy/sci-fi shouldn’t be used a license to willfully traipse around mental illness and neurodiversity issues, without a sensible thought. Aliens, magic, unknown science, and the like, should not be used to negate a mental illness instantly. Everyone involved with the production of sci-fi/fantasy shows must see to it that under no circumstances would they end up telling the viewer to disregard professional advice, medication, or their assessment of their own mental symptoms. Often, fantasy/sci-fi TV romanticizes protagonists who can self-destruct on a whim, but the ordinary viewer at home with the same affliction may not be able to do that. They need to make sure the characters, more so the protagonists, feel human, relatable, and real. — Part two of this blog will be released next week!