Call for Chapters for Book Proposal

The editors are seeking chapter proposals for a collection of essays that examine positive, healthy, and accurate portrayals of mental illness in entertainment media.

Proposed Title: Quieting the Madness: Entertainment Media’s Shift into More Accurate Depictions of Mental Illness

Editors: Malynnda A. Johnson (Indiana State University) and Christopher J. Olson (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee)

Purpose: From mad men to hysterical women to crazed villains, negative depictions of mental illness recur throughout entertainment media. Thus, unsurprisingly, a wealth of research has focused on the adverse aspects of these portrayals. Yet viewers and producers have recently started to push back against these inaccurate depictions and call for more accurate narratives. As a result, several movies and television shows have shifted how they frame mental illness. The past ten years or so have seen the emergence of more positive portrayals of characters living with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, autism, and more. These portrayals have helped kick down the “madness” door and rebuild a safer space to talk about the realities of mental illness. Though far from perfect these modern narratives nevertheless offer opportunities for viewers living with mental illness to identify with characters that experience familiar struggles.

Given that research on mental illness in the media largely focuses on the negative depictions and their consequences, this volume seeks to shift the perspective to examining where these portrayals of mental illness succeed. The essays in this volume will identify and analyze the characters, viewpoints, and experiences of mental illness across a variety of popular media. The essays chosen for this collection will work together to examine the presence of these messages in entertainment media, including animated series, TV shows, comic books, movies, video games, and more. Each essay will consider how the different texts reflect, reinforce, and/or challenge sociocultural notions regarding mental illness. This collection is designed to reveal how these messages become disseminated across the entire media ecology with which any aged audience might engage.

Proposed Structure: This collection will consist of an introduction, a conclusion, and twelve essays exploring this topic across a range of media.

  • Each essay should contain original scholarship on this topic.
  • Essays should consider any media text that includes characters living with mental illness.
  • Essays are encouraged to consider non-stereotypical and/or counter-stereotypical representations of mental illness.
  • Essays should be 5000-6000 words long.

Essay proposals, to be considered for inclusion as a chapter, should contain a title, your name with your institution and title, and 150-250-word abstract explaining the following:

  • What media text you will analyze.
  • What aspect of the media text you will analyze.
  • The importance of this aspect.
  • The potential conclusion drawn from your analysis.

The following presents information as to what will be covered in the introduction and conclusion chapters, as well as an example of an essay examining the media text Sherlock Holmes.

Sample Table of Contents


Tara Walker (PhD Candidate, University of Colorado Boulder), Malynnda Johnson (Assistant Professor, Indiana State University), and Christopher J. Olson (PhD Student, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee)

The introduction describes the prevalence of research on mental illness across the media landscape offering a historical overview of such representations. Setting the stage, the chapter will begin by chronicling the way that early perceptions and treatments of mental illnesses influenced depictions in the media. Moving along the timeline the chapter then discusses the continuity and change in film representations, and the common trope of equating mental illness with violence. Considering the variety of representations on television in the past 20 years, including sitcoms and reality shows focusing on mental health conditions such as hoarding, OCD, and addiction the chapter also illuminates the increasing commodification of these disorders via TV and film. The intro will consider the pros and cons of representations of mental illness presented in popular culture, with an emphasis on the importance of relatable positive representations. The intro will also include a brief discussion of the shift that the authors see occurring in how mental illness is portrayed in entertainment media and how scholars/critics are reacting to this shift, particularly in terms of how they cover/discuss this shift. Specifically discussing what happens when scholars, critics, and researchers include discussions of medical topics without labeling the conditions. Finally, the chapter will conclude with a preview of the chapters included in the anthology.

Psychopath, Sociopath, or Autistic: Labeling and framing the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes  

Malynnda Johnson (Assistant Professor, Indiana State University)

Across books, movies, and television series Sherlock Holmes has given audiences multiple opportunities to attempt to understand and label the peculiar ways Sherlock behaves. In the newest television series on the BBC Sherlock himself uses the label of “high functioning sociopath” but is he really? This chapter analyzes the evidence of the three labels and calls to question the opportunities and challenges with framing a character as having a mental illness without ever providing a diagnosis.


Christopher J. Olson (PhD student, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee)

In the conclusion chapter, Christopher J. Olson will synthesize the ideas put forth in the various chapters to discuss the importance of understanding the significance of positive portrayals of mental illness in entertainment media. The conclusion will also consider how the growth of positive, healthy, and accurate portrayals of mental illness throughout popular culture seem to signal a similar shift in the culture at large, one that allows for more honest discussions of mental illness outside the context of popular culture. In addition, the chapter will also identify areas of the media ecology that have been understudied while also considering the impact of other messages not considered within the pages of this anthology. Finally, this conclusion will consider whose voices are still missing from the current discussion, and how researchers can work to amplify these voices. Thus, the conclusion will describe how the theories, concepts, and ideas put forth by the contributors work together to underscore the importance of positive depictions of mental illness, and it will propose how other avenues of study can build off the theoretical and analytical foundation laid with this volume.

If interested, please email the authors with your proposal by September 1st, 2018 at:

Malynnda A. Johnson:

Christopher J. Olson: