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Mental Health And Mythology

The stigma surrounding mental health has always been detrimental to those who would benefit from seeking help. Mental health, in some settings, has been mistakenly used as a label and an aesthetic in ways. For example, when I was younger, all I ever heard were things like, I am so depressed because I got a 75% on my math test. Another common example of misusing and stigmatizing mental health are the many people I grew up around making jokes about self-harm, etc. With no support of my own, I turned to reading, which is how I learned more about Mythology and Folklore more in depth than what we were taught in English class.We were taught the do’s and don'ts of different situations but we rarely personified the characters.We never heard the real myths, how all those ‘monsters’ we feared became who they were. How the heroes or protagonists went through much more traumatic situations to get to where they were.


If we take stories, myths and folklore, from around the world, we can see that the Heroes or protagonists we’ve heard about usually have one or two sentences following them. For example, Oedipus is the guy that killed his father and married his mother. Hercules was born a strong warrior, Medea is the woman that killed her own children, etc. The characters in these stories seemed to get perceived as objects rather than subjects; their actions becoming who they are, with little personality.


Glorifying mental illness can be seen in even the earliest of stories. If we look closely enough, we can see a variety of mental illnesses and/or the symptoms that have a pattern of being explained away as being caused by a certain deity. Oedipus, the man who killed his father and married his mother. Oedipus knows his fate much before it happens, and he tries everything to stop it from happening. With no luck, he unknowingly kills his father and returns to his birthplace and marries his mother. Reviewing this story in school, all I could focus on was how anybody could marry their own mother?! His actions were explained away as fate. But this legend illustrates the unconscious struggles that take place during children’s development. An example of the literary trope from ‘The chosen one’ is Hercules. As we have been told and have seen in various movies, Hercules was born different. As the son of Zeus, Hercules was born with an unbelievable amount of strength and the heart of a warrior. This led him on the road to victory, but the goddess Hera, angry at Zeus’s indiscretion with Hercules' mother, put him into a temporary fit of madness, that led him to believe he was still at war. During this fit, he killed his wife and children. If this were to happen in the modern day, it may fit the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. As he had just returned from war, which is known now to be the cause of high levels of trauma for those involved, this theory is not as far fetched as some may think.


Some of you may be aware of the story of Persephone and Hades. Demeter and Persephone were mother and daughter and the earth blossomed under them. One day a beautiful flower caught Persephone's eye and she strayed away to get a better look. Suddenly Hades rode up from the underworld on his chariot and took her to be his wife. With her daughter gone, Demeter became inconsolable and neglected her duties on earth, causing all the fields, and slowly mankind, to die. Eventually Persephone was allowed back, but only for ⅔’s of the year. The other third, she would spend in the underworld, thus creating the seasons. Demeter's actions show clear signs of situational depression, caused by the absence of her daughter.


Almost all fairytales, myths, and folklore can be used to engage children when more conventional dialogue proves unsuccessful at promoting the life lessons needed. The diagnoses that are prevalent in today's society can be traced back to stories created in the BC era, showing us that even the heroes we believed to have lived perfect lives struggled at times to get where they did. These stories are what drove me to keep going, that even the toughest struggles are something that can be overcome.


Thanks for reading!

Haley W.

Youth Peer Support Specialist


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