Now you’ve conquered the types of fictional characters, it’s elements, but you are not certain whether to assign your fictional character with a neurological disorder, maybe you want to check out what mental illnesses you can include in your writing.
Sometimes a fictional character’s main trait can be exactly this – a mental illness. These often show the reader that the character is human, vulnerable and sensitive, and helps the reader empathize with the character. Mental illness can be the unique thing that points to when the character is present in the scene without having to use a lot of description to point it out.
Mental illnesses can help you differentiate the character in many ways and make him catchy, sometimes lovable.
Now, I’m talking about loving the craziest guy out there – we’ve all been there as readers for sure!
Note – I feel like I always need to state this but I’m not making fun of anyone with mental disorders. I may come off sounding like I mock specific character traits at times, but have in mind that’s not my point. This is a serious topic and as someone who’s grandma had schizophrenia, I can understand what you might be going through.
Without further ado, let’s dig into the variety of mental illnesses and help you pin some to your fictional character.
Most common disorders are:
- Anxiety disorders – panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and general anxiety.
- Mood disorders – bipolar disorder, depression.
- Eating disorders – anorexia nervosa, restrictive food eating disorder, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, diabulimia, and pica.
- Personality disorders – borderline personality, narcissistic personality, paranoia and delusion, schizoid personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder.
- Psychotic disorders – schizophrenia, brief psychotic disorder, delusional disorder, substance-induced psychotic disorder, psychotic disorder due to a medical condition.
Whole list from Wikipedia
- Any disorder that affects the everyday functions can be classified here.
- Panic disorder – these are sudden fears manifested in physical symptoms like sweating and heart racing.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder – a person has to do something repeatedly or thinks something repeatedly while losing control.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder – develops after a person has been exposed to certain negative events.
- Phobias – “persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation” Always remember – I was running away from spiders before I could walk.
- And general anxiety – “characterized by excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry about events or activities”
Most common being bipolar disorder, manifesting as moments of high mood followed by depressed mood.
We are well familiar with anorexia, restrictive eating, binge eating, and bulimia, but I don’t know if many people know what Pica is. Pica means that people eat non-nutritive objects at least for a month without any relation to religious practices. Imagine having a character eating light bulbs thinking it’s normal and everyone does it, until one day he ends up on ER where the doctor tells him he needs to stop.
- Borderline personality – a distorted sense of self and strong emotional reactions, often followed with self-harming and detachment from reality.
- Narcissistic personality – an extreme feeling of self-importance and lack of empathy for others.
- Paranoia and delusion – “pervasive, long-standing suspiciousness and generalized mistrust of others”
- Schizoid personality disorder – “tendency towards a solitary or sheltered lifestyle, secretiveness, emotional coldness, detachment and apathy”
- Schizotypal personality disorder – is “heavier” and reflects in severe social anxiety, paranoia, and avoidance of close relationships.
- Psychotic disorders
Possibly the “hardest” ones to write about because many of us don’t really know what it’s like and no matter how long we research we always might miss some aspect of the disorder. But don’t let it stop you from writing a psychotic fictional character. After all, it is fiction and you should be free to do what you want.
Schizophrenia – one of the most confusing to me. I mentioned my grandma. She was a teacher, a very educated woman with great social connections. I could say she had OCD regarding the house and cleanliness, but never in her life did she have an episode. A few months before she died, she started with weird behavior, hallucinations and she just seemed detached from reality. Then her doctor discovered she suffers from schizophrenia.
Turns out nothing so far had awakened it. I’ll never forget when she started screaming at us in the middle of the night to “open the red door” for her to pass. She didn’t calm down until we gave her a sleeping pill. Other days she wanted to jump off the terrace – the apartment was on the third floor. She didn’t have dementia, until one moment she knew everything. Then something clicked and the crazy started.
- Brief psychotic disorder – tied in with a stressful event, manifests as a brief display of psychotic behavior.
- Delusional disorder – a person has delusions but no hallucinations.
- Substance-induced psychotic disorder – alcohol or drug-induced psychosis.
- Psychotic disorder due to a medical condition – caused by tumors, stroke and endocrine disorders.
I would like to add a brief quote about psychopaths. “Psychopathy is traditionally a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits.” Another character trait that is hard to write about because we lack experience.
I had psychology in college and my professor was researching psychopaths for her book. She told us about a man who entered a random house one night to steal money and killed a three-year-old just because he saw her. He was sentenced for 40 years (maximum here) and when she interviewed with him he stated that he knows what he did, he’s okay with being in prison but he can’t feel sorry for the kid or the parents. He needed money for something stupid, like cigarettes. The only thing he wanted in his cell was a TV and to be allowed to have garlic with his meals.
Once his TV broke and nobody was there to fix it or change it and he got furious. His emotional reaction happened for the TV, not anything else. Almost as if he felt endangered by not having the TV to hear the news. I will never forget the look on her face when she said she “felt the chills down her spine” while speaking with him.
There’s a theory out there that psychopaths are not a “mistake in nature” but nature’s way of keeping humanity safe in case of severe destruction. They are the only ones who would be able to survive. Psychopaths are something else.
I hope this helped you a bit in deciding what disorder you want to assign to your fictional character if any. I’ve just given you a brief explanation for each, but it’s up to you to research deeper to understand the specifics. Let me know, did this help you? What would you like to know more about?
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