It’s Mental Health Awareness Month! To commemorate the occasion, our contributors have gathered four recommendations for oeuvres dealing with psychological issues because, you know, mental health is something to which we at Idiomanic all aspire.
We often forget that our minds, much like our bodies, require prolonged care to stay in shape. This applies whether we’re adapting to hereditary chemical imbalances or just the stress of daily life, yet network television seldom bothers with the notion of mental rehabilitation, opting instead for quick-fix epiphanies or magical character-regression pills. If you want an honest look at the long and arduous process of psychological recovery, get yourself cable and tune in to HBO’s In Treatment.
Based on the Israeli series Be Tipul, In Treatment stars Gabriel Byrnes as Dr Paul Weston, a private practice therapist whose clients range from a suicidal child athlete (Mia Wasikowska) to a retired Indian immigrant (Irrfan Khan) struggling with his daughter-in-law. Broadcast five days a week, each season follows the treatment of four different patients, with every episode consisting of a full, uninterrupted session (the Friday entry depicts Paul’s own therapy). It’s like watching a series of gripping one-act plays, except you don’t have to listen to hipsters congratulating themselves for patronising the theatre arts on the way out.
Final Fantasy III
When I think of mental health, I think of stark raving madness because I’m a glass half-empty kind of guy, and, when I think of stark raving madness, I think of Final Fantasy III for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Why? Because of one character: Kefka. When you first encounter the villain, you figure out pretty quick something isn’t right in his head, what with his constantly laughing at everything. As the game progresses, so does his madness, prompting him to burn down an ally’s castle, poison another kingdom, kill his own Emperor, and finally destroy the world, all with his incessant maniacal laugh.
Kefka’s craziness is a big reason you keep on playing: how can this lunatic stay one step ahead at every turn? His laughter, cute at first, becomes a giant taunt. However, the sixteen-bit RPG has got much more to offer, including beautiful graphics, quick-and-easy game mechanics, and music that’ll stay in your head weeks after you’ve completed the story. Try out Final Fantasy III or, as it’s once again known, Final Fantasy VI. You see, back in the nineties, the North American numbering got all messed up because Nintendo feared some entries wouldn’t sell outside of Japan. Now that’s crazy!
Rain Man (1988)
I know what you’re thinking: autism is a neurological condition, not a mental illness. However, my recommending Rain Man for this piece is mostly due to Tom Cruise’s character, Charlie, a greedy, emotionally-stunted narcissist who discovers his late father left the entire family estate to a brother he never knew he had. Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), the aforementioned brother, suffers from savant syndrome, and, over the course of a cross-country road trip to contest the will, Charlie goes from trying to cure him, to exploiting him, to finally learning to love him.
I doubt the interplay between the siblings reflects the true emotional challenges that come with either being autistic or caring for someone who is. However, Rain Man does highlight the notion that those afflicted with developmental disorders aren’t mentally ill so much as differently wired. After all, though he can’t vocalise them, Raymond’s feelings for his new brother prove healthy and sincere. In contrast, Charlie may be considered a functional part of society, but he’s more likely to damage the lives around him. Why then are his deficiencies deemed socially acceptable?
Dimitri’s Other Pick:
As the writer on the site struggling the most with sanity, I feel it falls upon me to cover for a colleague who’s ironically taken a mental health day and round out this piece with an additional recommendation. Spanning thirty-five issues between 1993 and 1998, Sam Kieth’s The Maxx tells of two worlds. In the first, our titular character is a homeless man under the care of social worker Julie Winters. In the second, he serves as protector of Pangea and its Leopard Queen, who looks suspiciously like Julie. The mystery of whether Maxx has delusions of being a super-hero or the Leopard Queen has concocted an urban fantasy provides much of the tension as Iszes (i.e. “what is”) munch away at both realities.
Simply put, there exists no other comic book like The Maxx. Equal parts surrealist commentary and psychoanalytic digression, the series has forged much of who I am as a writer today. The first twenty-one issues tell a full, perfect story. Then Kieth got bored and abandoned the next arc halfway through. Mind you, the questions he raises about mental health, identity, and the power of delusion more than make up for it. After all, if you can’t stare madness in the eye, how can you be so sure you’re sane?