Mental Illness in Popular Culture
by Sharon Packer, MD, Editor
May 2017, 364pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-4388-4
$64, £48, 56€, A87
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-4389-1
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

From literature, television serials, and media coverage of the acts of violent criminals, pop culture contains many references to mental illness in both positive and negative lights.

"Being crazy" is generally a negative characterization today, yet many celebrated artists, leaders, and successful individuals have achieved greatness despite suffering from mental illness. This book explores the many different representations of mental illness that exist—and sometimes persist—in both traditional and new media across eras.

Mental health professionals and advocates typically point a finger at pop culture for sensationalizing and stigmatizing mental illness, perpetuating stereotypes, and capitalizing on the increased anxiety that invariably follows mass shootings at schools, military bases, or workplaces; on public transportation; or at large public gatherings. While drugs or street gangs were once most often blamed for public violence, the upswing of psychotic perpetrators casts a harsher light on mental illness and commands media’s attention. What aspects of popular culture could play a role in mental health across the nation? How accurate and influential are the various media representations of mental illness? Or are there unsung positive portrayals of mental illness?

This standout work on the intersections of pop culture and mental illness brings informed perspectives and necessary context to the myriad topics within these important, timely, and controversial issues. Divided into five sections, the book covers movies; television; popular literature, encompassing novels, poetry, and memoirs; the visual arts, such as fine art, video games, comics, and graphic novels; and popular music, addressing lyrics and musicians’ lives. Some of the essays reference multiple media, such as a filmic adaptation of a memoir or a video game adaptation of a story or characters that were originally in comics. With roughly 20 percent of U.S. citizens taking psychotropic prescriptions or carrying a psychiatric diagnosis, this timely topic is relevant to far more individuals than many people would admit.


  • Showcases a wide variety of media representations of mental illness and enables readers choose which views they accept
  • Documents how the work of "classic" authors who wrote about or experienced mental illness—such as Poe or Lovecraft—remain relevant today
  • Spotlights examples of how popular culture such as comedies mirror changing attitudes toward mental illness and are helping pave the path to greater acceptance
Sharon Packer, MD, is a practicing psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist and an assistant professor of psychiatry. She is the author of many books on psychiatry and popular culture, including Dreams in Myth, Medicine, and Movies; Movies and the Modern Psyche; Praeger's Superheroes and Superegos: Analyzing the Minds Behind the Masks; Cinema's Sinister Psychiatrists: From Caligari to Hannibal; and Neuroscience in Science Fiction Films. She coedited The History of Evil in Popular Culture and writes a column on "Why Psychiatrists Are Physicians First" for Psychiatric Times. Choice listed her book on dreams among Best Titles, 2003. Her website is


"[A]n interesting new account of mental illness and its multitude of representations in popular culture. . . . The book will prove useful for more advanced students, faculty, or other individuals interested in the various forms of mental illness represented in areas of popular culture. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above; faculty and professionals."—Choice, November 1, 2017
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