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Mentally Unwell, Special Senses

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Mentally Unwell, Special Senses is when a person with some kind of mental illness or brain abnormality can see or sense things others can not.

While a work may not go into details on why they can see strange things, it's most likely because of how the mind works. A more "normal" mind with no illness is unable to see things. Those with any type of mental illness or abnormalities have their brains wired differently in a way that gives them the ability. If they are given medication or surgery to fix it, they may lose the ability.

In a dark twist, those who can see things will be labeled as insane and be ostracized or institutionalized.

Like any work dealing with mental health, this can cause some division; either it's wish-fulfillment/empowerment that reflects how they see their own condition, or it's a dangerous romanticism of a condition that could lead to people not trying to treat something legitimately negative.

Overlap with Invisible to Normals. See also By the Eyes of the Blind. Compare Medicate the Medium. Opposite of Go Mad from the Revelation. See Neurodiversity Is Supernatural when the strange is the reason for the mental illness. If they can see the future because of their illness, they are a Mad Oracle. Power Born of Madness can be related. Compare and contrast Through the Eyes of Madness, where the character's mental state makes their perceptions unreliable. Compare Insane Equals Violent, when "insanity" is correlated to another (more mundane) characteristic.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Parasyte: Uragami is a sociopathic, Ax-Crazy Serial Killer who is somehow able to sense the presence of the titular Parasites via a Spider-Sense. In the manga, it's heavily implied that he can detect them thanks to him being able to subconsciously read human body language and facial expressions, which also allows him to look for people similar to himself, or, alternatively, humanoids with killer instinct.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Devil's Advocate: After moving to New York with Kevin, Mary Ann's mental health begins deteriorating from isolation and paranoia, until she sees Milton's underlings sometimes showing demonic faces as if to taunt her. Interestingly, while they are depicted as fanatically loyal to Milton (AKA Satan himself), the film never confirms whether Mary Ann is hallucinating or if they're genuinely inhuman.
  • Heart and Souls: As an adult, when Thomas once again starts seeing the four ghosts who'd been anchored to him since birth (they'd made themselves invisible to him after his parents nearly had him committed because of his obsession with the four, whom only he could see, and as a result, he wound up convincing himself that they were only a childhood delusion), he thinks he's losing his mind again and tries to check himself into a psychiatric hospital. There, he and the quartet meet a schizophrenic woman who can see the ghosts too, and her accurate descriptions of each of them are what convinces Thomas that the four are real after all.
  • In Scrooged, Calvin became a mute after witnessing the death of his father five years ago. In the future yet to come, he is institutionalized. When Frank is about to leave, Calvin moves his eye in his direction, implying he can see him despite being invisible.

  • In Dracula, Renfield is first encountered as an inmate in a mental hospital who becomes acutely aware of what is approaching England. He "knows" and "sees" Dracula a long time before the vampire arrives at Whitby, and later escapes to become Dracula's servant.
  • In Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light by Tanya Huff, the protagonist Rebecca is a mentally handicapped young woman who is gifted with the ability to see the supernatural.
  • Played with in Harry Potter. Thestrals can only be seen by those who have witnessed someone die, and thus may be suffering from grief and trauma. However, Luna Lovegood, while seen as a bit mad, seems to have come to terms with witnessing her mother's death by the time Harry meets her.
    Luna: [holding a magazine upside down] Don't worry, I see them too. You're just as sane as I am.
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: It's a plot point as after much study Jonathan Strange comes to realise that the insane can perceive The Fair Folk, even when they make themselves invisible and are the only things other than other Fair Folk (and people they want to see them) that can. As such he spends days working on an alchemical distillation of insanity (specifically taken from a particularly insane Mrs Delgado) to make himself temporarily insane and thus able to converse with them.
  • In The Lust Lezard from Melancholy Cove, Molly Michon, who suffers from psychosis and schizophrenia, is the sole person able to communicate with the dragon.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, fifth season's Big Bad Glory drains the sanity out of humans to stabilize her own. This leaves them insane with the added side effects of being able to see Dawn as her true form as the Key.
  • Doctor Who: In "Vincent and the Doctor", the deeply depressed but visionary artist Vincent van Gogh is the only one who can see otherwise invisible Krafayis. The Doctor attributes this more to his unique way of seeing the world than to his depression, but because he was already considered "mad" in his time, no one but the Doctor and Amy believe him. He also crosses into Mad Oracle in "The Pandorica Opens", when he paints the Tardis exploding.
  • Ghost Whisperer: The Ghost of the Week in "Delusions of Grandview" is Greer Clarkson, a woman who in life was committed to a mental asylum that now serves as a nursery school. Eli and Delia discover that while she was alive, Greer was subjected to electro shock therapy that destroyed the rational part of her brain that convinced her that ghosts weren't real allowing her to see the ghost of a doctor that once worked at the asylum.
  • Lodge 49: Connie and Larry both experience seeing things no one else can (she sees people sometimes cloaked in glowing auras, he sees an actual dragon in his front yard), and both are a perfect example of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane (although the series implies real magic may be involved, she has a brain tumor, and he may be affected by toxins in the local water supply).
  • Moon Knight: Steven/Marc is able to see the invisible jackal monsters that Arthur Harrow summons. It's not made explicit if that's one of Moon Knight's powers or if it's because of his schizophrenia and DID, however he can still see them without the suit on, which his other powers require.
  • The Nevers: Maladie/Sarah was already mentally unwell before the events of the series, but being the only one to remember the spaceship that caused the show's Mass Super-Empowering Event plus being in a cruel 19th-Century asylum only pushes her further into madness. Whether she could remember because of her particular Touched power or because of her madness is unclear.
  • In Quantum Leap, when Sam leaps into a person, their physical appearance still seems as the original person, except for a few exceptions: Animals, children and the mentally ill/handicapped all see Sam's form. Sam will also see the original body in his reflection.
  • Yellowjackets: Lottie is heavily implied to be schizophrenic, suffering from hallucinations and visions. Her visions are at times uncomfortably accurate, and when she and her teammates crash-land in the wilderness, she is able to harness whatever forces there are out there, to the point of becoming a makeshift cult leader.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Changeling: The Lost: Creatures and objects of faerie have a mundane Mask that conceals their true appearance from outsiders. However, some people have a chance to see through the Mask either briefly or permanently, including those with major Derangements and people tripping on drugs.

    Video Games 
  • Bloodborne combines this with Go Mad from the Revelation. Insight is a stat that represents the inhuman knowledge gain from things that shouldn't be seen. There is an item that can increase Insight called Madman's Knowledge which is a human skull who went mad after contacting a Great One. At 40 Insight, The Hunter is able to see the invisible Lesser Amygdala in certain areas.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Saya no Uta, Fuminori Sakisaka was in a car accident and was only saved after a brain surgery. Unfortunately, it caused him to see grotesque images in everything. The sole exception is a young girl named Saya. Naturally it turns out her true self is that of an Eldritch Abomination.

  • In Jix Perception Filters don't work on the insane or geniuses, unfortunately since Jix (and her other personalities) is known to be both, she has trouble convincing her friends whenever she catches someone using a filter.

  • SCP Foundation: SCP-870 is a manner of predatory animal species that can only be perceived by people with schizophrenia; their appearance appears to vary from witness to witness, but their behavior remains similar. At least one researcher speculates schizophrenics don't even perceive it fully; they just have a brain different enough that the normally perfect camouflage is compromised slightly.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: The Ice King has long since been driven mad by his crown, but he also gained the ability to see the astral realm alongside normal reality.
  • In Human Resources, Sonya reveals to Emma that the reason she was fired was that she entered a relationship with a human woman named Claudia who was able to see her despite not being a client. This is considered forbidden because it messes up both the Love Bug and human which does happen with Sonya and Claudia; Sonya starts acting irrational while Claudia becomes more agitated. When Claudia experiences a mental breakdown, Emma wonders if she was crazy. Sonya herself said she was just sick and that was the reason why she was able to see her.

  • The Sanrio character Gudetama is an anthropomorphic egg who can only be perceived by people who are depressed or feeling lazy. Anyone else just sees an ordinary egg.