Anime and Mental Health Awareness Month

May is mental health awareness month, a topic close to my heart. I grew up in a family that struggled deeply with mental health and I myself have had quite the uphill battle in this regard. One of my favorite coping mechanisms is aniblogging and diving into anime where I could relate to the characters’ pain. As so, on that note, I bring you some of my favorite anime characters who have faced the hardships of mental health struggles and hopefully, you can gain some empowerment to take on your own battles with hope.

March Comes in Like a Lion is my healing anime. I like to turn it on in the background, make myself a pot of coffee, pet my cat, and browse Pinterest after a long day of classes and coaching. Not only is the tone of the anime soft and rewarding, the story behind the main character Rei is delightful and empowering.

rei kiriyama

Rei displays depression in a very realistic way. The authenticity of this show, as well as how the plot takes time to unfold gently, makes it a safe entrance into intimacy with brokenness. It was quite healing for me to empathe with Rei when I was struck with severe depression my freshman year of college. Where I once saw myself in Rei’s position, depressed and desolate, I’ve grown to relate more to Akari, the loving older sister who takes care of Rei in his time of trial. Watching myself grow against the backdrop of this anime was wondrous! It was like looking in a mirror; the more Rei grew, the more I grew! God worked in my life to bring strong friends to my side just like he did for Rei. Akari, Hina, and Momo may be fictitious characters, but God has surrounded me with friends who have the same spirit. It is my greatest wish that God would bring an Akari toall those who are hurting.

Orange deals with an even heavier—suicide. Sadly, suicide is a leading cause of death in Japan as well as the Americas. What I appreciated about Orange was how it portrayed suicidal thoughts as a constant rollercoaster battle. When dealing with such thoughts, there are a handful of good days and a fair share of bad days. It can be hard for friends of those struggling with suicide to know the difference between a good day or bad day since the struggle can’t always be seen on the outside. I have been on both ends of the topic in my life; I’ve had friends come to me dealing with these struggles, and I have gone to others with this fear in my own heart.

In Orange, Kakeru finds a safe place in his friends, who demonstrate empathy and love. Sadly, not everyone has a safe person to talk to. One of the most crippling parts of depression and suicidal thoughts is the feeling of being alone. Even if there are people who are physically around and verbally present, loneliness can rapidly and strongly take hold.

orange christmas anime

A friend once spoke to me about what it means to be alone. While we can have a connection with friendship, at the end of the day, you are the only one who knows your thoughts, feelings, and fears. You cannot share everything about yourself with a single person. Only you have access to your whole mind. In that regard, there is a sense of loss. The loneliness becomes more real as your emotions (or lack thereof) become more individual. I believe that depression’s greatest tool against the human soul is isolation. A lack of ability to feel empathy for yourself as well as others throws oneself into a world where you are hyper aware of what it means to be alone. While depression and suicide may have shown me a harsh meaning of being alone, after receiving steady doses of companionship, I learned to see loneliness as a good thing.

I don’t think Kakeru and I came to the exact same conclusion, but we struggled through similar circumstances to end up at the same point of discovery. While both Kakeru and I had a solid support team, my loneliness taught me to love myself while his taught him the necessity of companionship. Both are wonderful lessons.

Since Tokyo Ghoul is not a realistic anime, it can be quite hard to relate to Kaneki’s post traumatic struggle. However, PTSD is a very debilitation condition that robs you of a full life. Kaneki suffers from complex PTSD which is caused by long term exposure to trauma with no way of escape. This can be seen in hostage situations, POW camps, long term abuse in the home, and in Kaneki’s case, torture. After Kaneki is traumatized, he turns into a completely different character. After the death of his best friend and destruction of the only safe place he knew for ghouls, his personality changes again to cope with the stress load.

Kaneki also struggles with symptoms of schizophrenia. He has some very scary and seductive hallucinations of Rize, the ghoul who through a transplant turned him into a ghoul. During season one, he battles her voice defiling his thoughts and dreams until the moment he is able to conquer her, post torture.

In the currently airing Tokyo Ghoul re: Kaneki under the new identity of Haise Sasaki battles the voices of his past traumatized self. However, as anime always goes, his friends are alongside him to encourage him through the pain. Again, here is a demonstration of how humans need connection with others in order to heal from our scars. But still, it is clear that most of the battle in his head is a fight he goes about alone. This is not a bad thing though.

Kaneki handles healing in a healthy way. He allows his comrades to encourage and respect him, but he keeps his privet battles to himself, as they are not ready to face that hurt with him. In this way, Kaneki has control over himself. He has created emotional boundaries of who he wants Sasaki to be. Not everyone has access to the full Kaneki just as no one should be completely privy to your individual struggles. Some may see this as unhealthy or backwards. I disagree. As we have discussed above, who we are in our souls in a sacred and beautiful thing that deserves to be protected. Not everyone deserves full access to our hurt as that is a good way to become even more hurt. Since we are all broken beings, we can never be the perfect support for anyone. We can only do the best we can.

Kaneki shows that he is truly healing from his past by tackling his hallucinations in his own time, and respecting his comrades by taking in their assistance when they can give it and not over burdening them. He is both alone and not at the same time. He holds companionship, but knows when it’s appropriate to be alone.  This is a lesson that was very hard for me to learn, but, I feel that I have so much more control over my life when I leave the truly difficult topics to those who I know are trustworthy. The mere presence of friendship, although vital for healing, cannot heal internal pain like a light switch, and Tokyo Ghoul demonstrates this beautifully. Only God who knows every fiber of my being is permitted in the deep hallways of my mind and allowed to transform my mind inside and out.

I find great beauty in brokenness. God takes those who wish to be healed through the fiery furnace so they may be stronger on the other side. I am thankful for the struggles I have in my life, especially my mental health issues. Without them, I would have never been able to see how truly beautiful my mind and soul are. While God did the healing, he used a lot of anime to get me there. If you are hurting, anime doesn’t have to just be an escape—it can be a vessel of hope and encouragement.

featured illustration by 頭の中カユ太郎 | reprinted with permission

7 thoughts on “Anime and Mental Health Awareness Month

  1. “Only God who knows every fiber of my being is permitted in the deep hallways of my mind and allowed to transform my mind inside and out.”

    I appreciate this post, and I loved this statement in particular. A truly intimate relationship with God is a beautiful thing.

    If I might add one thought, it’s that one important factor in tackling mental illness that you’ll never (well, hardly ever?) see in anime is professional psychiatric / psychological help. Counseling and medication have been indispensable aids for allowing me to deal with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, and abuse, and I’d encourage anyone struggling with mental health issues to take advantage of the professional help that’s out there.

  2. Neon Genesis evangellion is a great show for looming into metal illness and looking for ways to try to stop looming into it as the creator was awfully depressed while making it many themes of depression run through all of it

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