1. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Mental Illnesses: Realistic?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by cruciFICTION, Oct 7, 2011.

    So the piece I'm planning, hopefully to novel length, includes a number of characters with mental illnesses, being that it's set in a mental health care facility.
    I've got ten characters, one of which is female, seven of which (including the female) are diagnosed with differing disorders. What I'd like to know is whether these disorders seem realistic enough.

    • A man whose eyes vibrate constantly because his brain puts him in a state near to REM sleep/lucid dreaming nearly constantly. Medication (Benzodiazepine) stops the shaking and sedates him, but in the time between the effects wearing off and taking the drugs again, his perceptions of reality suffer. He commit himself to find comfort, but under low security repeatedly attempted to escape. He now suffers vague feelings of persecution under high security.
    • A woman who suffers from trichotillomania (compulsive urges to pull hair out) and gynophobia (fear of women). She also has schizophreniform disorder (exactly like schizophrenia, but more intermittent) which is believed to be the cause of the mania and phobia. She killed her lesbian lover.
    • A man whose psychoneurosis makes him suffer from extremely violent tics which often cause him to flail about wildly if he lets the stress or rage build up. Also has a brain lesion causing constant insomnia unless he is medicated. After a particularly painful episode, he accidentally knocked a woman into heavy traffic. She did not die, but he was committed for the safety of the public.
    • A violent, delusional megalomaniac. Once attempted to fire his boss. Following being fired himself, he "led" a one-man "takeover" of an office building where a relative worked and maimed two people with a katana and killed a third.
    • An old man who has eleutherophobia (fear of freedom). He hates being outside, even when surrounded by fences, because the trees are free and so are the animals. Unknown (and unimportant) how he was institutionalised.
    • A ligyrophobic man (fear of loud noises) who winces every time people speak too loudly near him. He enjoys time outside. He is a paranoid schizophrenic, and though he feels safe around the main character, he refuses to speak about anybody else. Unknown (and unimportant) how he was institutionalised.
    • A man who suffers from echolalia (the compulsion to repeat what another has just said), but also has a stutter. He was teased heavily for both these things while growing up. May be a delusional schizophrenic as he believes that he has already killed himself to shut out "the voices, the laughter". Unknown (and unimportant) how he was institutionalised.

    To recap, I'm not asking for any suggestions for extra characters or people in the facility (but if you have any, feel free to go ahead). What I want to know is if from both a clinical and personal point of view, these seem like realistic disorders and reasons for being committed (only the first four have reasons for institutionalisation because they share group therapy sessions with the main character. So, any fundamental flaws that you lot can see?
    The main character, if you must know, is diagnosed as a schizophrenic. He suffers from every kind of hallucination at once while his limbs begin to shake. The shakes are believed to be caused by his prior alcoholism, though he was never a true alcoholic; the shakes and hallucinations are caused by psychic phenomena.
     
  2. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    Well, if you just present these guys in your story without really explaining in depth why they are the way they are or anything like that... I would have to say this doesn't sound realistic.

    What I might do is just not come out and say in the story "this is what this guy has". You can just describe a man that freaks out when he hears loud noises... and people will understand that he's a few fries short of a happy meal. You don't necessarily have to say "the reason he's acting like this is because he has a fear of loud noises". Your story kind of reminds me of that episode of that TV show House MD where he finds himself in a mental hospital for a few weeks because of hallucinations he has had. And as he met the others in the hospital, they all didn't have crazy disabilities like "fear of freedom" it was just like... ok you had the guy who thought he was Superman, and then you had a few with post traumatic stress or bi-polar or some kind of phobia.

    http://www.allpsychologycareers.com/topics/mental-disorders.html

    I found somewhat of a list of common mental disorders. It seems that it's certainly possible for people to be institutionalized with the disorders you mentioned, but the far more common ones are stuff like PTSD, depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia, some kind of phobia or anxiety disorder, etc. So if all of your characters had an outrageous mental illness... unless you establish that this is the mental hospital for the unique cases or something... I would imagine a reader would thing "this sounds a little too far fetched for me".
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    These characters are not working for me. You seem to be seeking a great deal of variety in mental illnesses, and I'm seeing too much variety and too many exotic symptoms.

    Also, if this is in the US, I have trouble seeing how several of these people would be institutionalized long-term. These days, the government generally does not commit, treat, and pay for the treatment of, people who are not a very serious danger to themselves or others. Mentally ill people who are entirely incapable of functioning in society are still left to fend for themselves.

    So several of these characters would likely need to be extremely wealthy, and to choose to enter the institution _and_ choose to stay there, paying for their own care. I could see the two murderers being held against their will, but not the others.

    (Also, I rarely see katanas around. I'd suggest a more conventional weapon.)

    ChickenFreak
     
  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agree that these disorders are a little too much on the fringes - how many people would really have these disorders and be in the same institution? Also, those who were violent (the killers) would absolutely not be in the same institution as the non-violent clients.
     
  5. Croga
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    Croga Member

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    Check out a Psychologists forum for professional Opinions.
    I love interesting and rare so this is up my alley, but those forums would have people who can lend recommendations to everything.
     
  6. shybutterfly
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    shybutterfly New Member

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    They sound too over the top for me. I think with adding mental illness to a story you need to be subtle about it. Try to make the characters endearing and easy to relate to. From personal experience, I have been hospitalized in a low security unit and most of the people were very quirky or had just been through a traumatizing event. There was the narcissistic writer who suffered from severe anxiety and could not sit still. A middle aged rocker-esque woman who had lost her beloved husband of many years. Me, I had suffered from Post Partum Depression and just couldn't stop crying.

    Don't allow the mental illness to define the character so rigidly.
     
  7. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you all. I'm pretty happy with the advice and such you guys have given. I'll be looking over the characters again, and to reassure you (see below) no, I'm not going to just outright describe the characters as I did in the OP. I'm not stupid. :p I just didn't want to be vague.
    Again, I really just wanted to know if they sounded like physically realistic disorders and such, but the advice I've gotten is good too.

    No, that's definitely not my plan. But I figured if I describe them here the way they would be in the novel, then it'd just come across as vague.

    Not in the US. It's set in my own city around now/the next few years (though the time frame isn't a massive part of it).
    As for the katana, I know (or know of, rather) a schizophrenic who killed a guy with a katana. He's the brother of an old friend of mine. They were sword collectors, and there are plenty of people like that around. A friend of mine currently has a genuine cavalry sabre. I have several ornate daggers. It's not that far-fetched.

    Well, the main character is partially psychic/psychokinetic and does have an element of drawing some of these people together. And they're nearly all violent offenders but for one of them (the guy who attempted to escape under low security, and every time he did, he injured orderlies and such). So yeah. They all have potential to be violent.

    Subtlety is the plan. Here I just wanted to get a bit of an opinion on the actual illnesses separately from each other, whether they seemed, mostly, PHYSICALLY possible. They're also mostly very minor characters. Their story lines are tiny and only directly related to the main character. These are just the background characters that will be mentioned more often, whose behaviour will be noticed and such.
     
  8. shybutterfly
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    shybutterfly New Member

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    I wish you luck with your story!
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you clearly need to do lots of research into each of those disorders, as well as get professional feedback [from mental health pros, not writers], or you'll risk ticking off readers who either suffer from one, or have a loved one suffering from one you present erroneously...

    asking writers is not the way to go... doing the requisite research is a vital part of being a writer and there's no easy out, sorry to say...

    ---------- Post added at 05:24 AM ---------- Previous post was at 05:24 AM ----------

    you clearly need to do lots of research into each of those disorders, as well as get professional feedback [from mental health pros, not writers], or you'll risk ticking off readers who either suffer from one, or have a loved one suffering from one you present erroneously...

    asking writers is not the way to go... doing the requisite research is a vital part of being a writer and there's no easy way out of it, sorry to say...
     
  10. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agree with mammamaia. Asking writers about medical/legal/technical things is like asking your fashion-conscious sister about dresses from the 1800s. Unless she's studied 1800s fashions, she's not going to know. Go to the source (and that ain't Wikipedia, either).
     
  11. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    have you tried reading the DSM?
     
  12. James Berkley
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    James Berkley Banned

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    it might give you some good ideas.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    but it might also confuse you further, if you have no background/experience in medical and mental issues/terminology... you'll still need to consult a mental health professional and do more detailed research...
     
  14. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    They're not too far out as such. There are disorders and phobia of every imaginable variety. Like fear of a certain color. However, people who have these are out on the streets, not locked up. Someone with a phobia might take offense at seeing themselves in a book that bundles them up with institutionalised manic depressives or schizophrenics. And as others have said -- if they've done crimes, they'd be someplace else entirely. Likely in jail. Plenty of psychopaths, etc, get thrown in there.
     
  15. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    I think it is necessary to do some research. You do have a lot to add for your characters, and if you can do the proper research, you may have no problem pulling off a compelling story. Would you say?

    I did have a fear of loud noises, so I experienced one of the medical conditions you listed above. I don't know if all of your characters with medical conditions play a major roles to the story's main plot.

    Anyway, I wish you the best.
     

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