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Mental Health Recovery Arc

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Students from all over the world have gone through exactly the same problem— faced the exact same fears. You're afraid your condition, whatever it may be, is controlling your life by forcing you to come here... But as long as you are acting on fear, you aren't going to make progress. If all you're doing is trying not to get worse, you're not going to get better. Of course this school isn't perfect — none of us are. What's important is that you focus on what we can give you, not what's taken away.
Ela, Missing Stars

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.

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, Sanity Strengthening, and You Are Not Alone. Contrast with Epiphany Therapy.


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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 The Garden of Sinners: 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 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.
  • Child of the Storm has several. Most examples relate to the Forever Red Story Arc in the sequel, and with good reason.
    • For Harry, everything after Forever Red is part of this, with multiple demonstrations that it is not linear - as in, his recovery has definite hiccups, most aptly demonstrated in chapter 60. It doesn't help that most of the Forever Red memories were initially locked away (justifiably, as he just couldn't deal with them at the time), and he accessed them around chapter 42 out of necessity. This leads to a horribly traumatising flashback nightmare in chapter 60 after the events of the previous mini-arc jumped up and down on his Trauma Buttons, with the author noting that recovery from trauma is by no means a linear process.
    • Maddie, also after Forever Red, though mostly for traumas that took place before it than during it - for her, that particular arc was both her proper introduction and her triumphant Heel–Face Turn, if at serious cost.
    • Carol has elements of this dotted throughout her appearances in the sequel - in the first chapter, Harry provides psychic therapy for nightmares related to the events of the first book, and after Bloody Hell, when she's recovering from her Near-Death Experience.
  • 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.
  • RWBY: Scars:
    • A major element of Weiss' character arc is healing herself emotionally and mentally after years of abuse, loneliness, and untreated mental illness.
    • Weiss' mother Willow has been an alcoholic for over 30 years. She decides to go sober after Weiss' suicide attempt shocks her and begins seeing a therapist about her undiagnosed schizophrenia.
    • Yang's character arc involves her recovering from PTSD after losing her arm to an Ursa, as well as her existing abandonment issues.
  • Recovery is one for both Yang and Weiss where Yang recovers from her PTSD while Weiss recovers from her loneliness.
  • In the Spice Girls/Ace of Base Fic, Just Taken, Melanie finds in two separate hospitals after a fight. The first hospital respected her wishes and didn't go forward the sectioning order against her, as she was already at a place of safety due to her injuries and worked things out, right down to handing the worm infection. Still, Melanie was taken against her wishes to a mental hospital, even after showcasing for injuries.
  • The arc in Now That You're Bleeding is Elsa starting to recover from her depression and also stop self-injuring.
  • Little Miss Heropants details Lilac suffering from PTSD due to the events of Freedom Planet and trying to recover from it, with Carol helping her out as well as keeping Milla from knowing about it.

    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.
  • Frozen (2013)
    • Elsa's magic that she must hide from the world to spare her reputation is applicable to mental illness (as well as repressed homosexuality, eating disorders, the autism spectrum, etc) - but there is indeed an arc about her learning to cope with the way she is and accept herself before she can function in society.
    • "The Next Right Thing" from the sequel is likewise about Anna still having to go on after Elsa and Olaf's apparent deaths. The lyrics were inspired both by Chris Buck's trauma after his son was killed in a car accident, and Kristen Bell's own depression and anxiety ("the next right thing" is her own personal motivation mantra).

    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.
  • My Name Is Emily is about a suicidal teenage girl with an Ambiguous Disorder somewhat overcoming her trauma and falling in love. A supporting character is her father, who was committed to a mental hospital, and is likewise out of it by the end.
  • Now, Voyager is a 1942 film about a repressed spinster who's had to deal with years of emotional abuse from her mother. At the film's opening, a psychologist is called by her sister and takes her into therapy; the rest of the film is about her trying to readjust to life post-therapy. In the book the film is adapted from, the love interest also had mental health problems but this is relegated to subtext in the finished film. It was based on author Olive Prouty's own experiences after two nervous breakdowns.
  • 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 on the autobiography of Mary Jane Ward. The film was revolutionary and led to a marked improvement in mental hospital facilities in the United States.
  • 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 on 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 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 works together to imprison it in the basement of their house. When they get a visit 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.
  • An extremely quick example in Pollyanna (1960). Pollyanna is left without the use of her legs after she falls from the roof of her aunt's house. As she's The Pollyanna, this causes a Despair Event Horizon where her cheerful disposition completely breaks. There is an operation that could allow her to walk again, but the doctor warns that her depression could prevent her from doing even that. Cue the entire town turning up at the house to thank her for how she improved their lives with her 'glad game' - and it ends with her leaving to go and get the operation (the book confirms she does walk again, but the film leaves it open).
  • Sucker Punch is about trauma survivors and sexual assault victims using performance therapy to cope with the abuse they suffer from a corrupt orderly in a Bedlam House. The vivid fantasy action sequences are in fact representations of their imagination.
  • The Dead Center starts out as a stark, unglamorous portrayal of what goes on in an emergency psych ward. At first, psychiatrist Dr. Forrester thinks John Doe just another - if unusual - patient. Aside from the supernatural/horror aspects, the movie portrays this trope with surprising, sobering realism. John Doe is sent to the emergency psych ward because the hospital doctors simply don't know what to do with him. For all they know, he's just some catatonic patient who wandered in and just snuck into a bed. And even in the psych ward, he's no shape to fill out the consent forms. Dr. Forrester secretly - and illegally - admits him into the ward, because he knows John Doe would probably get left to rot in some corner otherwise. And even then, patients can't legally be put under involuntary hold for more than 72 hours. Dr. Forrester resorts to hypnosis after more conventional methods don't work. There often aren't enough medical staff on hand, so sometimes patients go unsupervised, with tragic results. While John Doe eventually remembers things, it's really the demon inside taking complete control and imitating him to be discharged more quickly. The scene of his panicking father coming to pick him up after thinking John had died is exactly how these situations can play out.


    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. By the time he returns in season 4, he is much healthier and more well-adjusted.
  • 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 causes 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.
  • 13 Reasons Why:
    • Season 2 devotes time to Jessica's recovery from her rape at the hands of Bryce, meeting other victims of sexual assault and eventually coming forward about her identity on the tapes.
    • The same season follows Alex's recovery from his failed suicide attempt.

    Video Games 
  • 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-esteem issues.


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