Anime and Mental Health: The Connection

By LadyEveSidwich

Everyone's story is important.

Anime has been one of the only few mediums that openly deals with issues like depression, anxiety, psychosis, PTSD, and many other conditions. It unapologetically portrays it in a raw, gritty manner, not pulling any punches and it’s just…real.

As someone who has been in this world for some time, there is an authenticity to it, an authenticity that you just can’t find anywhere else. I never set out to be an advocate for mental health, it was never something I was passionate about because I didn’t understand it. As a matter of fact, it terrified me because of the stigma that is associated with it. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety that I really began to understand what it’s like to live with something like a mental illness, what pain really was, and what it’s like to live in a world that fears and misunderstands you. I may sound a bit dramatic, but when you’re constantly told that your condition is something of an imaginary concept and these feelings that you have aren’t valid, you get fed up and want to speak out what is in your soul.

It’s hard to explain what it’s like to someone who doesn’t have a mental illness what it’s like to have one. I only know how I feel on my darkest days, and I am very different from someone else with a similar condition. That’s what makes this so hard: no two people with a mental illness are exactly alike. What works for one may not work for another, it’s not an exact science; it’s mostly trial and error because the human brain is one of the most mysterious “organs” of the body.

Here are just a few characters that I relate to, and characters that I think portray what it’s like to live within this often dark world. I have done my best to explain how the subjects of anime and mental illness relate.
The following character analysis contains spoilers so read with caution!

Yuki Takeya: School-Live!

Anime and Mental Health: The Connection Yuki (Gakkou Gurashi)

Yuki is a classic case of someone dealing with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and psychosis. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) classifies PTSD and psychosis as so:
“PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.”

“The word psychosis is used to describe conditions that affect the mind, where there has been some loss of contact with reality. When someone becomes ill in this way it is called a psychotic episode. During a period of psychosis, a person’s thoughts and perceptions are disturbed and the individual may have difficulty understanding what is real and what is not. Symptoms of psychosis include delusions (false beliefs) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that others do not see or hear). Other symptoms include incoherent or nonsense speech, and behavior that is inappropriate for the situation.”

She sees the world as she wants it to be and not how it really is. After witnessing both her classmate Kurumi kill her senpai because he turned and her favorite teacher sacrifice herself to the zombies, Yuki completely shuts down. She enters a psychosis where it is not the apocalypse and everything is as it should be: she’s at school with her friends, she regularly goes to classes, and she enthusiastically bounds through the hallways as if nothing has happened. The most tragic part of this situation is her dealing with the death of her favorite teacher Megumi. She still speaks and addresses her as if she is still there, even having hallucinations of her.

Anime and Mental Health: The Connection Yuki (Gakkou Gurashi)

As the show progresses we find that Yuki’s world is slowly collapsing around her and she is forced to accept the fact that her favorite teacher is in fact dead, and her life as she knew it has changed. It’s often very hard to watch and even the most experienced doctor has trouble with patients suffering with these conditions.

Shinji Ikari – Neon Genesis Evangelion

Anime and Mental Health: The Connection Shinji (Evangelion)

Shinji, like me, suffers from major depression and anxiety. If he’s not isolating himself and questioning his will to live, he’s constantly seeking approval from his peers to make up for his lack of self-worth. (Source) Going back to the NIMH, it has several definitions for depression, so I’ve somewhat formed my own: It is a condition where you feel worthless; no matter what you do, it doesn’t amount to anything. You hurt and you want to cry, but you have no idea why, nor is there a good reason for it. It’s like a dark cloud hanging over you that is constantly telling you how stupid, worthless, and insignificant you are. Add anxiety into the mix and you have this feeling of falling and seeing the floor coming up fast on you—all the time.

Anime and Mental Health: The Connection Shinji (Evangelion)

Shinji is constantly questioning his worth, he’s always worrying about what others think of him, and he’s contemplating that he’s just not worth anything. The creator, Hideaki Anno, suffered from depression and psychosis. He actually wrote the original ending during a psychotic break; the show is said to be a projection of the author’s own mental state (Source).

Sakurako Kujō : Beautiful Bones: Sakurako’s Investigation

Anime and Mental Health: The Connection Sakurako (Beautiful Bones)

Sakurako comes from a prominent family, is incredibly smart, and is beautiful. She also is a perfect example of what some people do when faced with mental health crisis: they repress. Repress is a fancy term for “holding stuff inside.” This can be catastrophic to your health, and I’m not just talking about your mental health; physically you begin to decline as well. Now I haven’t read the manga, but I have watched the show so I’m going off of what I learned from that.

Anime and Mental Health: The Connection Sakurako (Beautiful Bones)

From what I can gather about Sakurako, she is the antisocial type because of something traumatic that happened in her past. She briefly mentions that her little brother died when they were kids, but we don’t really know the circumstances beyond that (unless you’ve read the manga…in which case don’t spoil it). She rarely lets her emotions show, but when they do, they are often strong and very direct.

In the case of Shotaro, with whom she has grown quite attached to, I’m assuming because he reminds her of her younger brother. She seems very distant often referring to him as “shōnen” (“boy”) instead of his real name. However there are two distinct instances when Shotaro has either put himself in danger or has become seriously injured, that Sakurako shows just how much the death of her brother has affected her. Especially when Shōtarō becomes injured protecting her, she shouts “DON’T DIE! DON’T DIE SHOTARO!” using his name, or is it the name of her brother? It’s intentionally meant to be confusing because that’s how Sakurako’s mind is: it’s a contradiction of analytical processes and overpowering emotions.

If you are one of the 350 Million People Worldwide that suffer from depression, if you are suffering from anxiety, if you are suffering from any sort of mental illness I want you to know something:

I’m here to say that it is okay to say that you hurt, that you matter very much, and you are no different than someone with any other medical condition; you just hurt in a different way. That’s the key to getting a handle on your mental health: remember that you matter, that there is someone out there who does care, and your story is an important addition to this world we live in.

Your story is important; you have something wonderful to give to this world. Sometimes anime can be a mirror of someone’s heart and soul. This is not weird; it doesn’t make you a freak. It makes you human.

What are some of your favorite shows? Who in an anime has spoken to you? Let’s have a discussion. That’s how change happens, that’s how stigmas gets kicked out.

If you want to read more on this topic, here are a couple of great articles done by Shrink Tank: Why Troubled Youth Love Anime, and Why You Should Too (Part One) & Why Troubled Youth Love Anime, and Why You Should Too (Part Two)

If you or someone you know are experiencing similar feelings or thoughts to please contact a medical professional or your local suicide hotline. For more information, please visit the MentalHealth.Gov Website for more information.

Join the conversation

Become a contributor

Looking for writers from around the world to join the Yatta-Tachi team! Find out how!

Learn more

Join the conversation

Let's Talk! What did you think of the article? Let us know!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Very interesting post, I used to work with a lot with a young adults who watched anime and read manga, they too struggled with mental illness and they seemed to identify with the characters in the series. Good job writing this and putting yourself out there!

    1. I really enjoyed reading this article so thank you for posting this. I just wanted to say that I myself am going threw severe depression along with anxiety. I can’t really remember the first time I started watching anime since I’ve watched it all my life.

      It wasn’t until I turned 21 and became like obsessed with it.

      One of the anime shows that I can relate to in a way right now is “Tokyo Ghoul” just because you know kaneki goes threw a lot of dark s**t! and I can relate to his pain because I myself have gone threw some dark s***t In my life. And I see the struggle he’s going threw of staying human and not become the monster that hides inside of him. he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, he wants to live a human normal life. I get him because, all the crap I’m going threw right now I can at any moment snap out and become some one that I’m not and start breaking things and throwing things. I don’t want to be a monster. Don’t want hate to consume me and be like everybody else only because I’m hurting.

      1. I hope that you are okay, and know that it’s okay to hurt and ask for help. I myself struggle with depression and anxiety and it sucks sometimes. I can relate to your hurt but I don’t pretend to know it because everyone hurts differently. Know that you matter. You matter very much to someone, and there will be days where you will hurt but know that they don’t last. I hope that you know that I meant everything I said at the closing of that article and my hope is to make it easier for people with a mental illness to reach out and ask. Your story is important, and each small victory should be celebrated.

  2. Thank you so much, it means a lot that you’ve read this and can apply it. My goal is to help get rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness, kids who suffer from it have a hard enough time just being teenagers. Thanks again and spread the word!

  3. Shinji Ikari likely suffers from Emotional Detachment Disorder, a frequent diagnosis of those who suffer premature and sudden separation from caregivers. His mother died when he was four and his father abandoned him soon thereafter, forcing him into a self-induced social isolation. Recovering from this condition is much of what EVA is itself about.

    Anno once spoke of this as “self-induced autism” and while that’s probably not quite right, it’s close in terms of the effects on the persona. But cutting himself off from the world, Shinji deliberately stunts his own emotional growth, seeing adulthood as “bad” and living as an emotional child. But one cannot remain a child forever without continued and eventually self-destructive isolation. The conflict between that part within Shinji which wants to remain small and that which needs to grow up is Evangelion’s real dramatic dynamic.

  4. Oh, boy. Here we go.

    I think, as a character, it was Alucard. As bizarre as that sounds. I’m bipolar, and Alucard’s manic highs and brooding lows, the undertone of ever-present depression and a feeling of emptiness is pretty much what I feel every day. Sure, for him, it’s his own permanence, his immortality that drains life of all enjoyment, but its close enough.

    Now, onto a little contribution of my own:

    First off, everybody needs therapy in Evangelion, everyone in the main cast. Gendo Ikari with his detachment and inability to express emotion; Ritsiko Akagi with her monumental repression; Misato Katsuragi’s near-nyphomaniacal focus on sex (as means of escape, or rather, as means of self-validation through self-humiliation) and mountanous daddy issues; Rei Ayanami’s identity dissociation and, lest we forget, Asuka Langley Soryuu. If there ever was a character who was not a can of worms but a can of slithering snakes, she’d be it.

    Second, the villains in anime where there are designated villains tend to be mentally ill in a variety of ways. Just open up the DSIM-V (or is it still IV?) and put your finger on a random page: there’ll be a villain who exhibits those traits. However, in general, they tend to be narcissists with delusions of grandeur, or well-intentioned extremists who view, (for instance) something like genocide as an imperative, not a monstrous act, as it will supposedly lead to some form of “greater good” in the long run (the definition of said greater good is usually a nightmare made flesh, but hey!)

    Third, Light Yagami from “Death Note.” Narcissistic personality disorder, sociopath (as difficult as that is to define.) His immediate flying leap over the line from having a notebook that can kill people to becoming a god cements his status as being unstable even before the notebook fell into his hands.

    Most everyone in “Black Rock Shooter.” Then again, half of it is battles in the center of the mind, so.

    Tatsuhiro Sato and Misaki Nakahara in “Welcome to the N.H.K.!” Sato: paranoia, psychosis (auditory and visual hallucinations, delusions galore), and a touch of hypochondria (he loves diagnosing himself with stuff.) Misaki: depression (self-mutilation is involved in the manga), complete lack of self-worth. She’s an attention seeker. Also, she admits to Sato that the only reason she was hanging around him is because he is even more pathetic than she is. You do the math.

    The Major in any continuity of “Ghost In the Shell.” Problems with self-identification and an interesting strain of body dysmorphic disorder: in that, as a consequence of being a full cyborg, she views her body as something external to herself, an object and not her own. This is shown to be a result of her having to go full cyborg at a very early age, and her coming to view her physical “shell” as nothing more than a “thing.” Too many examples per continuity (an interesting instance is in the original manga where Batou steals her brain case from her body, and she has to remain confined to just her cyber-brain. She expresses discomfort at the fact that her brain is still sending signals, no matter how faint, throughout a nervous system that simply isn’t there.)

    Tohru Honda from “Fruits Basket.” My GOD. Stepford Smiler to a cringe-worthy degree. Major depression, by default.

    “Revolutionary Girl Utena” is pretty much a trauma conga line wripped in a fairy tale wrapped in symbolism wrapped in weird stuff.

    Rumi in “Perfect Blue.” Delusion, possible dissociative identity disorder or rather just “identity dysmorphia” if that’s a thing. It is now. I said it first, people!

    Tsukigo Saki in “Paranoia Agent.” PTSD, sort of – it’s a trauma that marred her since childhood. Also, Mitsuhiro Maniwa loses his mind and surrenders himself to a grand delusion.

    “Speed Grapher” is filled with people whose psychoses are expressed in the form of fetishes/philias. Or rather, fetishes/philias that are taken to psychotic levels; in part due to the mutogen in their system that allows them to physically manifest these fixations, and in part because they’re all quite insane.

    Nozomu Itoshiki in “Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei!” Actually, frak that, every single character in this one have SOME sort of mental illness and/or psychotic behavior. The protagonist gets props due to how prone he is to falling into despair, as per his namesake (quite literally, too!)

  5. The author of Neon Genesis Evangelion was/is mentally ill. I would argue he portrays some of his mental illness struggle through his characters. Anime in general tends to focus on the emotional aspects of life – including tragedy. That’s part of why I enjoy watching anime 🙂

  6. I would go a bit further: For a long time, Anime was the only genre to show things as they really were. Not just depression, but a lot of things.

    I remember when Magi Madoka came out, and a friend of mine said she just screams and cries when someone dies, pointing out how she should ‘do something, fight, I don’t know’. I always thought “But, crying and screaming is the normal reaction for a 13 year old who just saw her friends die!”

    On normal series we usually see characters behaving like superheros even when they’re not, anime portraits people how they really are. This happens not only with depression or PTSD but with a lot of subjects, but since we know very well how depression works, we can easily identify what’s right and what’s wrong. What looks real.

    That’s a hell of a first article, Lauren. What an entrance! It’s very well written and informative, and I’m eager to see what else you got to tell us.

  7. Wow guys, the feedback on this article is so wonderful. Thank you so much for supporting this article, it means so much to me. I want to not only spread awareness about mental health, but also play a part in ending the stigma attached to it. There are so many hurting people out there who are afraid to get help because of that, and I just want them to know that it is okay.

  8. Just finished reading this post, and while I’m not an avid Anime fan/watcher, there is one that I remember grabbing me. I watched Mobile Suit Gundam Wing several years after it had aired, but whenever I go back and watch it, I am reminded of why I fell in love with the show. I relate to the characters, and as I continue to go through the things life has thrown at me, I relate to them even more. My favourite character in that show was Duo; and the older I get, the more I find myself relating to him. Pushing away the past, making light of things, putting on a tough, happy demeanour… all to deal with the tragedies he’s dealt with. (I’ve probably got a bit of Heero and Quatre in the mix, too.) Duo puts on a happy-go-lucky, nothing can hurt me, attitude because it’s the easiest way for him to press on.

    I haven’t been formally diagnosed, but I think I’ve had depression (or some form of it) since I was a child, but I didn’t have a word for it. My battles come and go, usually triggered by a situation I have no control over. But, I’ve always taken a deep breath, plastered a smile on my face and presented the world with a brave face because that was the best way I knew how to deal with what was happening and continue going to work, meeting with people, and just living life. I often push things down in order to get through my day, because I know there is someone in my life who needs a shoulder or an ear to listen to them.

    I also have ADD (diagnosed), and it affects my life just as much as the depression does. When the two get playing together, my day gets really interesting, lol!

    Thank you for posting this article and putting yourself out there. It isn’t an easy thing to do, but it reminds us that we are not alone in this. So, thank you!

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I hope that you are okay and know that each day you get out of bed is a small victory, it should be celebrated as some people don’t understand the struggle it is to do so. You are important and your story matters so thank you again for sharing with the community!

  10. This is actually very helpful to me. I’m doing a research paper on how anime can help people to deal with depression, anxiety, etc. And i just love how this was published this year. It’s rather convinent.

  11. From suffering from anxiety and having in the past 6 months been diagnosed with depression, anime has really been a help. The notable ones include Tokyo Ghoul and Black butler. only Tokyo Ghoul really tackles mental health but they both are really good ones. I go back and forth with my mentality all the time so anime really is a help.