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Depicting Mental Health
Personal Experiences & Reactions

Brian NEW HeadshotA Message from EIC's President, CEO & Co-Founder, Brian Dyak

Continuing on with our mental health series, our last issue covered the identification of mental health challenges. Now we move on to the logical next step, the characters’ reactions to this new information. After your character receives their diagnosis, how does this make them feel? How does this change their definition of themselves? How will the opinions of their loved ones and friends change? How might your audience react? These questions are all very important to fleshing out an authentic depiction of an individual who has realized that they are living with a mental health challenge, but they are issues that are rarely explored.

These experiences and reactions are what make your stories come alive; they are what make your character human. Exploring these emotions, questions, and feelings of self-doubt and self-acceptance helps to expose your audience to new sides of mental health and mental illness that they may have never known of before. They may come to form a new understanding of your character, a deeper connection that they never had—a connection, that may keep bringing them back to your program and stories to find out what happens next.

Mental health and mental health challenges are, no doubt, an interesting and intriguing topic to cover through your creative work. But, again, we ask you to consider the individual you are depicting and not just the illness. Think about the following information and depiction suggestions when you are designing your next character.

 EIC's Mental Health Resources

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 In this issue...
  • A Message from Brian Dyak
  • Doctor's Note
  • Examples of Positive Reactions
  • Suggestions for Depicting Mental Health
  • Profile On: Parenthood
Doctor's Note

How people respond to their mental illness makes an enormous difference in their outcomes and their lives. Do they avoid and deny the diagnosis? Do they let others take care of them? Do they bury themselves in addiction and self-medication? Outcomes like violence and suicide are not symptoms of mental illness but sometimes they are part of how people react to their experience of having a mental illness. These details are what make your stories come alive, not the diagnostic terms. It also naturally builds compassion to hear someone’s story in their own words. For example, a man once told me, “Being paranoid is like living in a Nazi concentration camp where you could be abused or killed at any moment. Except the camp is never liberated and other people do not even believe that it exists.” Including individual details, like the example above, that showcase how someone truly experiences these mental health challenges can add a new, unique layer to storytelling that has the ability to re-humanize people. These details make for not only more detailed characters but also richer and more relatable storylines for your audience to enjoy.

--Mark Ragins, MD

 Positive Reactions to
Mental Health Challenges
Here are a few examples of positive reactions to mental health challenges that can make for impactful storytelling:
  • Taking responsibility for one’s own life.
  • Seeking support from others instead of isolating oneself.
  • Learning emotional coping skills.
  • Doing things outside of being a mental health patient and outside the mental health system.
  • Learning to “use” medications and other forms of treatment and services effectively.

 Suggestions for Depicting Mental Health

Mental Health KeyAn individual’s reaction to their own mental health challenges is a key part of understanding them. When you are creating your characters, consider these suggestions:

  • Consider that humor and self-disclosure are effective methods for communicating mental health issues. Think about the ways that these depictions can normalize discussion about these topics.
  • Contrary to some misconceptions, one can live a gratifying life despite mental health challenges; it all depends on how successfully the disorder is managed. In fact, research shows that depicting someone with a mental illness who succeeds in various areas of their life is the most effective way to reduce stigma and discrimination. For example, your characters can fulfill responsibilities even when they are not feeling well such as going to work, picking up kids from school, or taking care of household responsibilities.

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EIC's FREE Technical Assistance Resource 
to the Creative Community!
To set up your own FREE First Draft Consultation with one of our experts contact Ashley Jupin: 
or 818-861-7782


Each Mind Matters is California's
Mental Health Movement.  Each Mind Matters was created to unite all of us who share a vision of improved mental health and equality.  Our goal is to amplify the voices of all people who want to put an end to this mental health stigma, and to create a community where everyone feels comfortable asking for the help that they deserve.

"Each Mind Matters is millions of individuals and thousands of organizations working to advance mental health.  We are California's Mental Health Movement."

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