Recently I started listening to the Night Vale Presents Podcast:Alice Isn’t Dead and I will say that it might be one of the greatest things I have listened to in a while. I found myself relating a lot to our nameless narrator. Not only is she a queer protagonist searching the strange and terrifying world for her wife, she is also a character struggling with an anxiety disorder, and that is something I certainly can identify with.
I’ve wanted to write a post about how OCD is portrayed in pop culture for quite some time now—but to be honest, there really aren’t that many obsessive-compulsive characters out there. Off the top of my head, I can name the Riddler from DC Comic’s Batman and Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh. Rin tells me that Pearl from Steven Universe also suffers from OCD, but I don’t watch that show and therefore cannot comment on it. So that leaves me with the Riddler and Rabbit, which are not that many characters at all.
Unfortunately, despite being one of the more well-known mental disorders out there, OCD is sadly not that well understood by people at large. I think this helps contribute to the lack of representation—and what representation us OCD sufferers do get is normally not that great either.
Way back in 1962, Ken Kesey published One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Over ten years later, it was adapted into a movie by the same name. One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest isn’t in our wheelhouse, but its portrayal of mental hospitals is certainly worth mentioning. Both the novel and the movie came out at a time when mental hospitals had a lot more problems than they do now, especially in terms of how patients are treated and handled. As such, the story ended up being a social commentary on those institutions at the time.
This is a marvelous thing, as there were certainly issues that needed to be addressed. And while I wouldn’t give One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest all the credit for addressing those issues, thankfully nowadays, mental hospitals are a lot better than they used to be. That’s not to say that they don’t still have problems, because they do. Unfortunately, when we see mental institutions represented in pop culture today, those problems are highlighted to an unusual degree, normally to turn mental hospitals into a thing of horror.
This does a great disservice to both the people who actually need help and the people who genuinely want to help them. When we constantly present mental hospitals as horrible places designed to harm patients under the false pretense of actual psychiatric care and further demonize the staff who work there, people with actual mental disorders who need help are less likely to seek out that help. We internalize the messages that popular culture teaches us, regardless of whether or not they’re true—and one of those messages is unfortunately that mental hospitals are horrible places that should be avoided at all costs.