Novel Tropes #2: Violence and Mental Health Issues

Our second entry in Novel Tropes, our mini-series, focuses on the ‘people with mental health issues are violent’ trope. Elise puts on her researcher hat and discuss the stats about this relationship in real life. We also chat with Anna Ross, a PhD candidate whose research focuses on reducing stigma towards severe mental illness through improved media reporting. Tune in for our recommendations on how writers can do better. Hint: we want to see less of this trope in general, tbh.

Mental health issues covered: discussions around mental health issues such as schizophrenia, psychosis, and bipolar disorder, among others.

Additional content notes: violence, stereotypes, stigma and discrimination.

Meet Our Guest – Anna Ross

Anna Ross

Anna Ross is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Mental Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at The University of Melbourne, Australia, where her research focuses on reducing stigma towards severe mental illness through improved media reporting. She has ten years of experience in mental health research, undertaking research into stigma and discrimination towards mental illness, development of Mental Health First Aid guidelines, evaluation of suicide prevention campaigns, and prevention of mental health problems. Anna is also a trained psychologist, completing her Masters of Clinical Psychology in 2015, and is a teaching associate in the Masters of Public Health.

You can find Anna on Twitter.

A Quick Summary of Our Discussion:

  • The trope relates to the idea that people with mental health issues are violent individuals, particularly people with diagnoses such as schizophrenia, personality disorders (such as antisocial and borderline personality disorders), dissociative identity disorder, bipolar disorder, and psychosis. According to TV Tropes, this trope is often used to make a character seem frightening, since psychosis (or other complex mental illnesses) is often used as an explanation for why a character is unpredictable and unreasonable, or is acting in a bizarre way.
  • There are heaps of examples around this trope, including: Norman Bates from Psycho, James McAvoy’s character in Split, Fight Club (check out our review episode for this one!), and Mrs. Rochester in Jane Eyre.
  • What does the research actually say? Elise presents some of the statistics. For example, only about 4% of violent crime is associated with severe mental illness!
  • Despite all the stats, we still see mental health issues disproportionately linked to violence in media – both fiction and non-fiction.
  • Anna Ross shares her knowledge in the area and a bit about her research as well!
  • We would like to see less of this trope in general as it has real impacts on stigma and discrimination. We would love to see more nuanced portrayal of the experiences of people living with mental health issues instead.

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