Created By: batgirl1 on June 15, 2011 Last Edited By: batgirl1 on February 6, 2013
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Mental Illness Is Not A Disability

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There is a tendency in fiction (and, in some cases, reality) to treat Mental Illness as if it were not, in fact, an impairment beyond the control of whoever's afflicted with it. This often manifests in two forms:

Type A: Mental disorders are simply not given the same respect as physical disabilities. While a character who slows down the action due to being deaf or blind might be excused or even admired, a character impaired by OCD or ADHD will instead be treated with annoyance and pretty much told to shake it off. (Unfortunate Implications include the idea that a mental illness or disorder is something you can "snap out of" if you try hard enough). Sadly, this Double Standard exists in real life as well. (Of course, if it's all an act or Obfuscating Insanity, then this is justified.)

Type B: In some works, mental illness really isn't a disability apparently, as it doesn't slow down or impede the character in any way, making them at worst a Bunny-Ears Lawyer. If anything, being crazy makes the character even better at what they do, such as in Crazy Awesome, Insanity Immunity, Disability Superpower and a heck of a lot of other tropes. Often associated with bad guys -- see Insane Equals Violent. Contrast Sanity Has Advantages.
  • A Sub-Type of this, popular in fanfiction circles, is depicting Depression as something that allows characters to brood and angst and be tragic and attractively weak and broken. What's often ignored is the fact that depression is not a nice illness nor is it simple or easy to end -- and most importantly, the love of the lead male is not going to magically put an end to it. If anything, it should load the depressed heroine with guilt, shame and uncertainty. Depression tends to rear its ugly head for months and years after the healing process has started. [[hottip:*: More information on Real Life Depression can be found here.]]

See Also The Mentally Disturbed. This may be why There Are No Therapists.


Examples

Type A
  • Monk - The entire series handles Monk's OCD according to Type A. At least Once an Episode there's a situation where Monk could just explain his disorder and resolve the conflict, but that would rob the series completely of it's comedy.
    • One egregious example of the trope is in the episode where Monk is trying to prove an astronaut killed his ex-girlfriend. Monk is speaking at a school, and the students all shine laser-pointers on him, driving him up a wall. Not only were the students not reprimanded, but the situation was portrayed as an example of Monk being weak.
  • In Rain Man, Tom Cruise's character gets upset at Dustin Hoffman's savant character for the reasons described here.

Type B
  • "Fishmalks" in Vampire: The Masquerade are a (technically) fan made example of this. The Malkavian vampire clan have insanity as their Fantastic Fragility-- anyone turned into a Malkavian vampire will invariably develop some form of mental illness regardless of prior mental stability. This was meant to be horrifying, an uncontrolled and incurable descent into insanity. However, some players took this to mean "Chaotic Neutral Bunny-Ears Lawyer" and did incredibly random and unsettling things, only to act completely rationally later.
  • The Joker. Being insane has only enhanced him, and there is speculation that he might only be faking.
  • Deadpool. His madness enables him to see the Fourth Wall and gives him strong enough Confusion Fu to beat the Task Master.
Community Feedback Replies: 25
  • June 15, 2011
    randomsurfer
    In one episode of 24 Bill Buchanan says to Chloe something like "we don't have time for your 'personality quirks' right now."
  • June 15, 2011
    Clevomon
    It's a common double-standard in real life as well.
  • June 15, 2011
    jaytee
    Type B sounds an awful lot like Crazy Awesome.

    The Monk example can be expanded to include the entire series. At least Once An Episode there's a situation Monk could just explain his disorder and resolve the conflict, but that would rob the series completely of it's comedy.

    As far as 24 (and bear with me, since it's been a long time since watching it), but they've never acknowledged in-universe that Chloe's quirks are the result of a learning diability, have they? It was my understanding that the idea of Chloe having Aspberger's was fanon, or maybe the actress said somewhere that she "plays" Chloe as having Aspberger's, but unless there's in-universe or Word Of God confirmation, I wouldn't count it.
  • June 15, 2011
    Hadashi
    I've been meaning to create this trope for a while :P Though I was going to expand it quite a bit....
  • June 15, 2011
    batgirl1
    ^Hey, no reason we can't join forces on this thing. :) What would you expand it to cover? Or do you just mean make the description bigger? This is a very early draft, and I'd like some input.
  • June 15, 2011
    Fanra
    Monk is speaking at a school, and the students all shine laser-pointers on him, driving him up a wall. Not only were the students not reprimanded, but the situation was portrayed as an example of Monk being weak.

    With today's No Tolerance policies, in Real Life those students would be expelled, if not actually arrested...
  • June 16, 2011
    Hadashi
    Sure. Disability Isnt Weakness or something like that - meaning that being disabled doesn't make you an stupid (comes up a lot as the disabled are often still Acceptable Targets so long as the disability isn't wheelchair related).
  • June 16, 2011
    Mozgwsloiku
  • June 16, 2011
    Bisected8
    Compare Disability Immunity when it's a weakness but has its advantages and contrast Disability Superpower.
  • June 16, 2011
    batgirl1
    @Hadashi: Hmmm, that actually seems like a separate trope idea altogether. Go for it, and see what happens. :)
  • June 16, 2011
    peccantis
    Unfortunate Implications include that mental illness or disorder is something you can "snap out of" if you just "get real" or "grow a backbone".
  • June 16, 2011
    Earnest
    See also Bunny Ears Lawyer. Compare Single Issue Psychology, where any mental disability can be cured with an easy epiphany.

    Of course, if it's all an act or Obfuscating Stupidity (err, Obfuscating Insanity?) then this is justified.

    • "Fishmalks" in Vampire The Masquerade are a (technically) fan made example of this. The Malkavian vampire clan have insanity as their Fantastic Fragility-- anyone turned into a Malkavian vampire will invariably develop some form of mental illness regardless of prior mental stability. This was meant to be horrifying, an uncontrolled and incurable descent into insanity. However, some players took this to mean "Chaotic Neutral Bunny Ears Lawyer" and did incredibly random and unsettling things, only to act completely rationally later.
  • June 16, 2011
    69BookWorM69
    Savant characters and real life people fit. Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man springs to mind. Not to mention that killer with Asperger's in an episode of Law & Order: CI; his attention to detail and the question of whether he was playing up his disability to fool the police helped him almost pull it off.
  • June 16, 2011
    hevendor717
    Gonna call poor word choice on "handicap". We all know that a golf handicap is the bonus given to you to even your chances at winning. "Handicapped people" once had the feeling of "fellow who needs a boost to get around". Now "handicapped" largely means "helpless sick cripple" and "a handicap" means "mobility-hindering-deformity or severe disadvantage". What I mean is, "a handicap" could still sound like "an assisting factor for the weak" instead of what you mean it to mean.
  • June 16, 2011
    StarryEyed
    Yeah, the title should be Mental Illness Is Not A Disability , not Handicap. Sometimes because There Are No Therapists.
  • June 17, 2011
    Bisected8
    Rain Man isn't an example. Dustin Hoffman's character clearly wasn't supposed to be functional.
  • June 17, 2011
    FerdinandtheBull
    We have The Mentally Disturbed; I'm not sure if it's exactly this, but it's very similar.
  • June 17, 2011
    jaytee
    ^^But at the same time, Tom Cruise's character gets upset at Dustin Hoffman for exactly the same reasons as described here.
  • June 19, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    Don't forget the pills. In fiction (and sometimes in Real Life), one pill is enough to fix the problem for good and all (whereas in real life, the person taking the medication for their mental illness will likely have to take them for the rest of their lives).

    Also the pills are represented as "happy pills" -- as if the only thing a mental disorder does is make the character unhappy.
  • June 21, 2011
    peccantis
    ^not to mention that it takes a few weeks to even find out whether a specific pill even makes any difference with a specific individual... Then there's the multitude of fun and amusing side effects.
  • June 21, 2011
    Clevomon
    The Mentally Disturbed is completely different from this - that refers to a tendency to portray mentally ill characters as being incomprehensible or wacky/annoying. If anything, this trope is the opposite extreme, saying that mental illness isn't a disability at all, and that the person with it is being whiny or emo or something similar.
  • June 21, 2011
    peccantis
    Oh, and the ever-lovely subtype of type B, prevalent in fanfiction mostly (due to the fact that Most Fanfiction Writers Are Teen Girls): depression, perhaps with self-destructive effects, is something that allows the character to brood and angst and be tragic and attractively weak and broken. What's often ignored is the fact depression is not a nice illness nor is it simple or easy to end -- and most importantly, the love of the lead male is not going to magically put an end to it. If anything, it should load the depressed heroine with guilt, shame and uncertainty. Depression tends to rear its ugly head for months and years after the healing process has started.
  • June 25, 2011
    FerdinandtheBull
    Seriously, The Mentally Disturbed is this. It does include "wacky/annoying," but everything else being discussed here is in that trope description too -- the double standard with "physical" illnesses/disabilities, the victim-blaming, the "snap out of it," the assumption that "medicated" is the opposite of "crazy." It's true that pretty much all of the examples are comedy ones, but the way to fix that is by adding these examples to The Mentally Disturbed page.
  • June 25, 2011
    TechUnadept
  • June 25, 2011
    TBeholder
    Also, (A) seems to be "OMG, some people don't take seriously everything psychologists invent"
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=rmdfxsj2vgaozi65xb4ahcnr&trope=DiscardedYKTTW