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Mental Health Recovery Arc

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Many people suffer from mental illness. Recovering from it is, more often than not, a long (sometimes lifetime-spanning) and challenging journey, with many illnesses not even having "cures".

In fiction, characters with huge amounts of trauma and mental illness often have arcs where they learn to live with their troubles. Not always, however, does the end result have the character being "fixed" of their illness. They'll often learn how to cope with their illness and make progress, but the arcs often end open-ended with them still having symptoms.

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Widespread use of this trope is a relatively recent occurrence thanks to improvements in mental health research and care. Historically, depictions of mental illness and mental illness recovery have been basic and full of misconceptions. The more sensitive and thorough portrayals of the subject greatly differ from the traditional portrayal of The Mentally Disturbed.

Compare to Coming-of-Age Story, I Am What I Am, In-Universe Catharsis, and Sanity Strengthening. Contrast with Epiphany Therapy.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: The Elfheim arc is about Guts abandoning his quest for vengeance (or putting it on hold) so that he can get Casca to see the king of the elves, in the hopes of restoring her to her pre-Eclipse state (during which she was so traumatized, she now has the intellect of a small child). He himself doesn't participate in the actual recovery, since Schierke and Farnese are the only ones who can use astral projection.
  • In Dragon Ball if you squint. The series is about big crazy fights, and characters are often eager for the challenge, but on occasion, usually with the human characters, past fights are brought up and they lose confidence in their ability to help in the current situation. Noticeably in "Super" there is an episode (76-Forest of Terror) where Goku and Krillin go for some special training to help Krillin regain his confidence, and thus fighting spirit. The training ends up being a "Jedi Tree" situation with magical copies of their past opponents, ones they had, and apparently still hold some amount of fear over. The whole episode focuses on Krillin, and we get a "death montage" of all the times he's been killed, as the copies, including forms of his killers, trigger memories. The heroes of course figure out the trick to surviving and winning, and Killin is able to "get over" his past fears, enabling him to move on with his life and training, but it bears mentioning not all the copies were for him. Among the Goku-spawned copies is King Piccolo, Goku's first real problem he faced as a child, and someone Krillin died before having any experience with, that's some decades plus baggage! This episode is the first to really address the long-term impacts facing these villains have on the heroes. It is short, and tries to impart a message that fear makes problems bigger, and by overcoming your fear you can overcome your problems, but it's almost never that simple in real life.
  • In My Hero Academia, one of Todoroki's major arcs is getting over his fixation on not using his fire powers out of spite for his abusive father. He's disgusted with himself for even thinking of using it and gains a Thousand-Yard Stare when reminded of the things Endeavor did to him and his mother. Even after Midoriya goads him into going all out at the Sports Festival, Todoroki consistently struggles to use his fire when compared to his ice, but goes from being unwilling to stand in the same room as Endeavor to actively seeking him out for an internship to learn from him.
  • In Sword Art Online, the Phantom Bullet arc is largely about Sinon dealing with her PTSD. Her condition is the result of Survivor's Guilt where as a child she shot and killed a criminal, leading her to have panic attacks around guns. She starts playing the gun oriented VRMMO, Gun Gale Online, as a form of immersion therapy. Through the eventual help of Kirito she manages to overcome her guilt and get past her condition.
  • Inverted in Kara no Kyoukai: Shiki had a split personality since birth and was quite well adjusted to it, but then one of her personalities "dies" following a serious brain injury, so she has to adjust to being a regular human with a single personality in her body in the course of the novel.
  • The last few episodes of Zombieland Saga focus on the reappearance of Sakura's depression after she regains her memories of her life, where her mental health was much worse than the dedicated upbeat zombie the rest of Franchouchou knew. Once the girls continue singing after the roof caves in at their biggest concert yet, she realizes her friends will support her through her failures, and starts to recover.

    Fan Works 
  • The Splatoon Dark Fic Her Fractured Spirit deals with Callie's recovery after her trauma from the second game.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: There is a some focus on Ami and the unwanted mental side-effects of incorporating the memories of a centuries-old Evil Overlord, Malleus, which she gets cured due to a Mind Hug from The Light Gods.
  • Ashes of the Past: There are segments where Ash uses Aura Purge to help people and Pokemon, work through their issues with a Battle in the Center of the Mind.
  • Sunset's Recovery Arc is both about Sunset Shimmer learning to be good and recovering from her depression.
  • Weight of the World: Alfred is put through the wringer throughout the series. He is kidnapped, experimented on, tortured, betrayed, and nearly killed multiple times in gruesome ways. The events slowly wear down on him until he is left with PTSD and depression in The Charlatan of Choice. His friends and family encourage him to keep on going but he struggles with self-doubt, self-loathing, and self-esteem issues. His arc involves him opening up to others, accepting their help, and accepting that he isn't weak for having mental health issues as he rebuilds his sense of self-worth.
  • Dragon Blade: Toushiro has PTSD from the events of the Winter and Thousand Year Blood Wars. His personal arc revolves around his recovery as he learns to accept his condition (which he is in denial about), accept support from the faculty and students of UA, and learn to live with his PTSD.

    Films — Animation 
  • The entirety of Finding Dory is about Dory's struggle with her short-term memory loss which she has had to live with for her entire life. While she initially despised it, she eventually learns to work with it and accept it as a part of who she is.
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • A Beautiful Mind: John Nash comes to terms with his paranoid schizophrenia over the course of the film, although as there is no cure for it, he continues to live with it by the end.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe has dipped into this a couple of times:
    • Iron Man 3 features Tony Stark grappling with anxiety attacks and PTSD after the events of The Avengers. He's achieved a kind of peace by the end of the movie, but still suffers from both conditions, with his anxiety and paranoia in particular causing several problems down the road.
    • Thor's character arc in Avengers: Endgame is about dealing with a mental breakdown, and subsequent depression, caused by the Trauma Conga Line his life's become. When we see him after the Time Skip, he's spent years drinking heavily, becoming obese, rarely leaving his house and spending most of his time playing video games: the rest of the movie is him working through it.
  • To the Bone is about a young woman named Ellen attempting to recover from anorexia nervosa.
  • The Snake Pit is about a schizophrenic woman's experience in a 1940s mental hospital. It's based off of a semi-autobiographical book based on a woman's real experiences.
  • In The Three Faces of Eve a woman goes to a psychologist trying to figure out the cause of her headaches and blackouts. It turns out she has two other personalities but doesn't realize it. The film is loosely based off of a 1950s study done on a real woman named Chris Costner-Sizemore.
  • Due to Rule of Symbolism, The Babadook can be seen as this. The movie centers around a widow whose husband died many years ago and shows signs of clinical depression, which stems from her grieving, and from dealing with her young son who seems to have a learning a disability and severe behavioral problems, which includes acting aggressively and disconnectedly with other children. When the Babadook comes and torments them, their issues become even worse, with the mother eventually becoming possessed and attacking her son, until he reassures that everything will be alright, she then vomits the spirit and work together to imprison it in the basement of their house. When they get a visit from from the social workers, the boy seems to be doing better in his new school, and the mother seems to be doing better mentally and socially. Meanwhile, the Babadook is still imprisoned in the basement and though, it tries to re-possess whoever goes down to feed it, it's always cast away, showing that although the Babadook (grief/depression) can never be fully banished, it's best to keep it in check and not let it become the dominant force in their lives.

    Literature 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend:
    • After two and a half seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend playing Rebecca's mental issues for dark comedy, she finally starts putting effort into improving her mental state after surviving a suicide attempt, including getting diagnosed for borderline personality disorder, taking her therapy seriously, going to a support group, and trying to cut romance out of her life — with mixed results.
    • Season 2 opens with the reveal that, immediately after the season 1 finale, Greg was picked up for drunk driving. While a lot of his recovery happened off-screen between seasons, when he reappears he's still in the process of overcoming his alcoholism, and it ultimately leads to him finally making the decision he's known is best for him all along: leaving West Covina to study at Emory.
  • Season 7 of Supernatural revolve around mental health issues. Sam, after returning from hell, struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He has visual and auditory hallucinations of the devil and has trouble differentiating between these hallucinations and reality. He hears voices telling him to kill himself and others. He also has a great deal of trouble sleeping which eventually cause him to breakdown and end up in a mental facility.
  • Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer revolves around Buffy suffering and eventually recovering from depression after being brought Back from the Dead and dragged out of heaven in the season premiere.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy VII: In the lategame, Cloud became mentally broken after suffering Mako poisoning and finding out that he's not what he really is. When he and Tifa fell into the Lifestream, they manage to enter Cloud's subconsciousness. The entire quest involved Tifa having to piece back Cloud's memory which eventually fixed Cloud's self.
  • Persona 5: Futaba is shown having great social anxiety and what appears to be PTSD as she experiences visual and auditory hallucinations of her mother blaming her of her death. After the Phantom Thieves deal with the latter, her entire confidant is focused on slowly helping her adjust to people and lessen her agoraphobia.
  • Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is all about the title character learning to cope with her psychosis, rather than being "cured" of it.

    Visual Novels 
  • Little Busters! is a Coming-of-Age Story and as such, focuses on the main character Riki recovering from trauma he's been dealing with as a child. When he was young, and before he met the other Little Busters, Riki ended up in a car accident that killed both his parents. He ended up in a state of depression that only stopped when he met the other Little Busters, who became his best friends over the years. However, that created a new problem for Riki, namely that over the years, he became too dependent on Kyousuke and the others bailing him out when things got too tough for him to handle on his own. Combine this with the fact that everyone except him and Rin would've died in a bus explosion, Kyousuke realizes that if nothing is done, Riki will have problems getting by on his own once everyone dies. His Character Development is about him becoming self-reliant so he doesn't need to be bailed out by Kyousuke or anyone else. It's revealed in Refrain that the source of Riki's trauma is the death of his parents when he was younger. He became fearful of losing anyone ever again, so when the Little Busters befriended him, he began clinging to them.
  • Missing Stars starts off with an 18-year old named Erik transferring to a boarding school in Vienna. The school specializes in secondary schoolers with mental health problems. An accident left Erik with PTSD symptoms, which also cause psychosomatic troubles with his legs. Erik's arc deals with recovering from the accident. His love interests also have similar arcs.
  • The main plot of Toradora! Portable, the visual novel based on the light novel and more focused on the anime version made for PSP, is about Ryuuji Takasu awakening from a coma and having Identity Amnesia, all of this after being rejected by Minori Kushieda in Christmas night and staying outside until the dawn, in the middle of snow. The game is about Ryuuji discovering who is he and what he did with his life with the help of his friends Taiga Aisaka and Yuusaku Kitamura, the Official Couple and Heterosexual Life-Partner respectively

    Web Animation 
  • Yang's character arc in Volume 4 of RWBY focuses on her trying to recover after a string of traumatic events in the previous volume left her suffering from PTSD and depression. She ultimately manages to come to terms with her issues, though the following volume shows that she still occasionally suffers from tremors.

    Western Animation 
  • Downplayed in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. One multi-season arc of Twilight Sparkle revolves around her learning to deal with her anxiety.
  • The fourth season of The Legend of Korra revolves around Korra getting back on her feet after the traumatic events of the season 3 finale that caused her to develop post-traumatic stress symptoms and self-estem issues.

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