What if I told you that the Dramatical Murder anime and music artist Logic have something in common? On the surface, the two seem entirely different, one being an animated narrative based on a visual novel and the other, a rap artist. Although dissimilar in many ways, these two pop culture artifacts help to bring awareness to mental health concerns such as depression and suicide.
Welcome to September’s OWLS Blog Tour
Every month, I join the voices of the Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-respect (OWLS) blogging project in order to promote the acceptance and inclusion of all individuals regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or disabilities. The OWLS bloggers and vloggers use anime and other media to explore a central theme promoting diversity and equality. I feel proud to work with the OWLS team, so keep an eye out for future posts exploring important social issues. If you’re interested in these topics, be sure to check out the other OWLS blogs for each blog tour.
The September blog tour focuses on the theme “Treasure,” exploring mental illnesses, depression, and/or suicide as they appear in pop culture. We are discussing how characters cope with their situations and how they find ways to continue on.
Earlier this week, Grimm Girl and Nice Job Breaking it, Hero combined their efforts on a collaboration video. Coming up next, keep an eye out for a tour post from Lita Kino Anime Corner exploring a mixture of topics, including Blue Spring Ride. I hope that you will consider checking them out!
Spoilers: You will find some slight episode-specific spoilers ahead. Although not terribly significant, I understand that some people dislike having individual episodes within a series spoiled. Please proceed with caution if this is important to you.
Understanding Depression and Suicide
Mental health is a major medical concern not only in the United States, but around the world, especially in regards to depression and suicide. Depression occurs with many variations, affecting some people in short-term bursts, or enveloping entire lives. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 300 million people suffer from it worldwide.
Discussions revolving around depression also commonly involve suicide, though there are many other causes of suicide, and not all cases of depression lead to suicidal thoughts. WHO reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. One of the most important things that a person can do when dealing with these health concerns is to talk to someone about it. Unfortunately, talking to someone is a difficult task under the weight of not only heavy feelings, but by the fear of negative social stigmas attached to these conversations. Nobody wants labels like crazy, weak, or unstable, which often come attached to both.
Making the Invisible Visible and Approachable
As fellow OWLS blogger Heyitszel of Archi-Anime discusses in their Tour Post, these are both difficult topics to discuss. Many people feel uncomfortable talking about depression and suicide because they feel unfamiliar, heavy, and unapproachable. One of the most amazing aspects of our vast world of media and pop culture is its ability to make problems like these visible and approachable. Creative minds work to promote awareness of issues such as these that are not well represented, breaking down walls that make them difficult for many people to access. The anime Dramatical Murder is one such narrative that opens up the dialogue.
Trapped Within Yourself
Throughout its 12-episode run, Dramatical Murder’s central protagonist Aoba uses his supernatural abilities to enter the minds of the people around him in order to discover elements of their pasts that cripple their present selves. Once found, Aoba works hard to erase these elements in order to set that person free. In Data 08: Reply, the 8th episode of the series, Aoba enters the mind of his quiet, teach-savvy friend Noiz. Inside, he finds Noiz in darkness, immobilized by long chains attached to shackles around his wrists and ankles.
As Aoba learns about Noiz’s troubled past and unique inability to feel pain, sentences begin floating through the air around them. These sentences disclose that Noiz sees his life as meaningless. He also reveals that he tries to live his life as detached from others as possible, affecting an air of disinterest wherever he goes. That way, he reasons, nobody will feel sad if he died. Although the word suicide never appears, the implication that Noiz has contemplated ending his life comes across clearly.
Aoba fights these floating sentences by telling Noiz that his life does matter. He explains to the tech-head that he would feel sad if Noiz disappeared, shaking his illusion that his death would impact no one. In the end, Aoba’s offer of companionship breaks through to Noiz and allows him (with Aoba’s help) to escape these feelings. Their interaction illuminates depression and suicide and brings these concerns into the minds and (hopefully) conversations of viewers.
Our various pop culture artifacts are not without flaws in creating visibility, however. In many situations, shows and movies tend to portray a message that everything will magically be fixed after people (especially friends) intervene. For the remainder of Dramatical Murder’s narrative, the issue of a support network for Noiz never comes up again, and the general assumption is that Aoba has cured him. In many ways, this is still a positive and important thing to portray, as support networks really do save lives. OWLS blogger Rai of Rai’s Anime Blog discusses the importance of support networks in their September Tour Post.
Just as Noiz needs Aoba’s support to break free of his depression and find his own self-worth, real people dealing with the same troubles need the support of their friends and family. Unfortunately, there’s more to reality than these narratives tend to explore. These hopeful messages are great, and can really help people find hope of their own, but they might also cause harm in the process.
In reality, many cases of depression and similar mental health concerns don’t always go away entirely. Many people suffer from chronic depression, affecting them for most or all of their life. Feelings of despair, hopelessness, or helplessness come in waves that individuals must ride out. Many will remember the shock of losing Robin Williams in 2014, or the passing of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington in July of this year, both to suicide. These celebrities didn’t lack a support network by any means. Sometimes, despite successes and a wealth of friends, people can become beaten down by their illnesses and lose sight of why they’re fighting. At the same time, sometimes support networks forget that someone is drowning because, for all intents and purposes, they appear fine on the outside.
Many narratives fail to address these important concerns, leading people to infer that depression and related illnesses are easily resolved. After experiencing these narratives, members of a support network might believe that their friend or family member won’t need them after a given point. Likewise, someone struggling with these issues may believe that there is something really wrong with them when they lapse back into these heavy states instead of staying fine like various narratives portray. Pop culture possesses the power to make these health concerns visible and open discussions about them but often only tell the first half of the story. So what can we do about that?
Using Pop Culture to Affect Change
Rapper Logic raises awareness of major mental health risks through pop culture as well, but he approaches it from a different direction than narratives such as Dramatical Murder. He uses the song 1-800-273-8255 to raise awareness about suicide, as well as to offer aid to anyone contemplating ending their lives. To anyone unfamiliar with the number, it seems like a strange choice for a song title. This particular number, however, is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, one of the lifelines designed to help people contemplating suicide to find a way to continue living. The song follows the story of a person contemplating ending their life after a long struggle.
In a Youtube video, Logic discusses his motivations behind the song. He says that people have approached him in the past and told him that his music saved their lives. Their stories surprised him because he hadn’t set out to save anybody when he decided to take his hobby to the professional world. Hearing what these people said sparked a question in his mind: What would happen if he had actually been trying to save people on purpose? Out of this thought was born a meaningful song that, if nothing else, will get the Lifeline number stuck in people’s heads so that it might surface in times of need.
People struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide need support from their friends, family, and surrounding community. Health organizations, service organizations, and our various media are working hard to spread awareness and open up life saving conversations, but they can’t do it alone. Anyone can help make a difference by being open to discussing these topics and learning about life-saving resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline available for themselves, as well as for friends and family.
Do you have any thoughts you want to share about any of these topics or this month’s OWLS theme, Treasure? Share them in the comments! You can also connect on Twitter at @Popliterary, or send a message on the “contact me” page.
And as always, if you have a literary device you want to know more about, or a game, comic, show, or movie that you want to see make an appearance on the blog, leave a shout-out in the comments!
Right now until the end of the month, OWLS is hosting an exciting giveaway. One lucky winner will receive a copy of Katie Green’s book Lighter Than My Shadow. Entering is easy. Check out the contest entry page for more details.