[Spoiler warning for Jessica Jones and Daredevil Season 2.]
In the media, PTSD is often portrayed with serial killers, villains, and veterans. In general, mental illness is often portrayed in a “scary” light in media. Video games have horror genres that always take place in old mental institutions where it is deemed dangerous. I enjoy watching criminal shows for reasons I can’t explain since they are often triggering. I’ve found that when there are people with PTSD portrayed, they are nothing like me. They are always killers and described as “sick people that need help”. If people see themselves portrayed in this light they will constantly think of themselves as bad people. They will begin to perceive that these stigmas are true. One diagnosis shouldn’t ruin a person's life, it should help them to move forward.
Shouldn’t people who need help be able to get it before they become so sick they decide to murder others? If this isn't the case we need better care options and better support, but that's a whole different topic. We need to find different ways of portraying these characters so the real people who go through the illness aren’t horrified by what they see on television.
Another aspect that I’ve noticed is that my three favourite books that involve young adult characters with mental illnesses (one with PTSD) all are about young white men. We need more diversity within these books. It’s so hard to find a book with a young girl who experiences a severe mental illness. I’m not talking about normal teenager mood swings. There should be books with mentally ill kids of all races and genders, this should be a more widely spread topic. People should be able to find a character that they identify with. If they can’t I urge them to write their own story, true or fiction.
The few shows I’ve watched that have portrayed mental illness well have done a great job. These shows have given me hope that writers can learn that we are humans too and deserve to be portrayed as a variety of different things. When the only person in a show you identify with is a serial killer it can be unsettling and lead you to question yourself. Writers need to a better job of providing diversity and normal everyday people that have been struck with a trauma that’s changed their life forever.
Jessica Jones is one of my favorite shows of all time. I watched half of the first season before being diagnosed with PTSD. Within the first episode I saw she had all of the same signs I did: nightmares, flashback, trauma, rage, isolation, avoidance. When they mentioned PTSD later on I thought about it for a minute but shook it off, too stuck with the stigmas I saw portrayed on TV and in other shows. When I got diagnosed a week or two later the show became my salvation. I watched it on all my sleepless nights and found strength in Jessica Jones and the actions she took to ensure no one else would get hurt. When I learned I was going to have to have a police interview it was the last thing on earth I wanted to do. I was terrified beyond words. This was my worse fear. Yet what got me through it was looking at this fictional character and the lengths she was willing to go through knowing the pain she felt. This not only validated my pain and fear but it gave me the strength to do what I had to do. This show will always be close to my heart.
Daredevil is another show I’ve watched. In season two there was a new villain called “The Punisher”. As the season went on we learn that he was a war veteran and his whole family had been murdered. Daredevil and his friends (all lawyers) claimed he had PTSD and made a lot of claims that made me extremely angry. I couldn't imagine how the same people behind Jessica Jones had allowed this. However, just as I was about to turn it off I had one of the most uplifting experiences. The lawyers chose to represent The Punisher for his crimes. When one of them went to him telling him he should plea that he had PTSD as a veteran and was out of his mind, he refused. He said something in that scene I will never forget: “That would be unfair to the people who really suffer from it.” I started to cry after that scene. The writers had not only changed my mind about the show but they’d given me hope that maybe some people do understand, or at least have compassion and empathy.
Slowly but surely, PTSD’s portrayal in the media is improving. Although it still has a long way to go, this last year I’ve seen tonnes of progress. There have been shows and books that have restored my faith and left me craving more. There have been characters that I can actually relate to and empathise with. However, until every person can find this, we will not have met our goal. Writers can’t avoid portraying characters with a certain mental illness just because it’s ‘scary’. We are real people too with emotions, and hopes, and dreams. We deserve portrayals of ourselves that aren’t always serial killers.