Mental Illness Behind The Jane Eyre Novel




Literature is said to be the written reflection of the society, culture and its issues based on a particular time.

Jane Eyre was a novel written by Charlotte Bronte about a heroine finding her way and place in the society. It challenges the cultural and religious norm of that time. Also, it tackles gender and social class issues and places the main characters in the position to examine their moral and spiritual sensitivities. The element of suspense in the novel was the existence of a ‘lunatic’ first wife who was described as, “what it was, whether beast or human being, one could not, at first sight, tell: it groveled, seemingly, on all fours; it snatched and growled like some strange wild animal: but it was covered with clothing and a quantity of dark, grizzled hair, wild as mane, hid its head and face.”

Bertha Mason, the first wife, of Mr. Rochester was of Creole descent and has a family history of madness. Due to the insanity and the animalistic behavior of his wife, Mr. Rochester opted to imprison his wife in the attic under the care of a nurse. In the Victorian era, locking away or domesticated attention of mentally ill individuals are considered less harsh then taking them in the asylums. The ‘madness of Bertha’ has influenced society’s perception and awareness of mental illness.




Due to the popularity of Jane Eyre, some experts and academics even studied and compared the condition of Bertha Mason to an individual diagnosed with Huntington ’s disease (HD). “Simply put, HD is caused when one gene (or allele) of a usually healthy gene pair we all carry is abnormally elongated. This HD gene mutation is dominant, so that anyone who carries it will develop HD,” wrote Jenni Ogden, PhD. Huntington ’s disease also called as Huntington’s chorea is a hereditary disorder which leads to the death of brain cells.

Early symptoms show subtle problems with mood and mental ability. Next, overall lack of coordination and unsteady gait is observed. As the disease develops, jerky and uncoordinated body movements become noticeable. Physical ability slowly worsens until coordinated movements become difficult and the person is unable to talk. Mental abilities are also affected which causes cognitive and psychiatric disorders. Similar to Huntington’s tenets, Bertha Mason depicted a disorder with a strong family history which is suggestive of an autosomal dominant inherited condition with adult onset and culminating in suicide.

Many criticize Bronte on her depiction of Bertha’s Creole heritage and her complexion along with her madness as evidence to be identified as savage but at the same time also seen as a doppelganger for Jane. The doppelganger takes on the novel may not be too far-fetched since Jane Eyre is even imprisoned by the red room as a child and abstract sense of confinement as a woman of low social class. During those times, women suffer too many restraints and rules. “Even if they belonged to higher social classes, most women throughout history have been enslaved by men. Until recent times, women throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia were unable to have any influence over the politics, religion or culture,” wrote Steve Taylor, PhD.

Thankfully, the rigid social level, the limitations of women and stigma of mental illness are improving and far better as compared before; however, the issues remain and despite countless efforts from advocacy groups and healthcare sector. Feminists groups, female initiative campaigns, call for gender equality and reports of sexual assaults stay as problems that are yet to eliminate. After all, the feelings of entrapment of Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason might still be the same confines we face today.




With the present situation, a lot has changed since research, science and digital technology have intertwined and allowed the discovery of treatments and innovations on how to treat and handle mental illness. “Going back to a bit of history, World War II put a big spotlight on mental health as the war had serious mental health impacts on soldiers (war impacts EVERYONE and it has a trickle down effect through the generations),” wrote Kimberly Key, PhD. “Slowly, a shift in perceptions occurred where people could safely seek treatment for adjustment, transitions, and relational issues without feeling stigmatized.”

There has been a lot of promising changes, however, we still need more human involvement and understanding in relation to our attitude and behavior with persons suffering from mental illness.

The Evolution Of Mental Illness




Despite many improvements in treatment and research of mental illnesses, there are still existing social stigmas that hinder the society from addressing the issue of increasing incidence. In the prehistoric times, mental illness was seen in a mystical perspective. Without division between magic, religion and health care, without any real understanding of the cause of the occurrence of the disease, the abnormal behavior is attributed to the supernatural. Treatment would include casting of spells by Shaman and exorcists. From 500 BC to 500 AC, various mental disorders were pinpointed as melancholia, mania, hysteria, delusions, and hallucinations. Then, in the 15th century, the ideas and opinions on mental illness surrounds in arguments of the existence of witches, finding basis and proofs that witches-oftentimes women-do exist, how to identify a witch such as deviant behaviors, insanity caused by possession of the devil, salvation of the soul was given more importance than the physical body and physical punishments.

According to Neel Burton, MD, “In antiquity, people did not think of ‘madness’ (a term that they used indiscriminately for all forms of psychosis) in terms of mental disorder but of divine punishment or demonic possession.”




The 16th century was a time when mentally ill individuals were dangerous and were locked up in order to protect society. Mental illness was a topic tackled in literature. This was evident in the Shakespeare’s plays, but it was most apparent in the play “Hamlet.” Several characters in Hamlet might be identified as mad. Most notable are Hamlet and Ophelia. Deaths of their fathers drove the madness showcase in this game. Hamlet’s behaviors suggested a mental disorder. For instances, seeing the ghost of his father and the ghost urging him to seek revenge is an example of hallucinations. Visual and auditory hallucinations are one of the symptoms seen in individuals with some form of schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. Many people with anxiety, depression and panic attacks also encounter hallucinations. At some point, Hamlet questions his insanity whether it is, in fact, the ghost of his father or rather the devil itself who is betraying his soul.  In the end, his madness and quest for revenge resulted in the most tragic of the story: Death to himself and his loved ones. Another major character who also exhibited symptoms of mental illness is Ophelia. Ophelia showed signs of depression over the death of his father. The death of her father also destroyed her self-identify and it too bloomed the feelings of helplessness regarding her own life. The subject of mental health during these times may not have prompted dramatic action towards the treatment and management of mental illness, at least it became a vehicle of awareness regarding the fact that mental illness exists and can happen to anyone.

In the 17th century, the general belief was that if “mad” people behave like animals, they would be treated as one. A neuroanatomist and doctor, Thomas Willis advocated treatments such as curative discipline, fetters, blows and medical treatment.  The law decree that a mentally ill individual lacked the ability to reason so his affairs are handed over to someone else – nearest friend – who will not substantially benefit from his death. The care of the ill was a domestic manner and cared at home or private mental institution.

The 18th century was a dark age for the mentally ill. They were classified as prisons who are oftentimes, neglected. During this period, there was the development of asylums usually away from the public. The 19th century was a breakthrough and become a pivotal point in what mental illness is today. The mentally ill were treated in a specialized facility resembling a homey environment. Decent beds replaced the prison room with pictures of nature and loved ones and other decorative objects. A structured schedule was implemented, and inappropriate behaviors were tackled with the goal of restoring sanity and become a productive member of society.

In the 1960s, there was something referred to as “antipsychiatry.” Mark L. Ruffalo, DPsa, LCSW, wrote, “Perhaps the most pervasive — and harmful — claim made by antipsychiatry is that mental illness doesn’t really exist, and that the treatments for mental illness are merely concealed attempts to exert social control over the population.”

“There were many others who joined in on the attack on asylums, including Thomas Szasz, R. D. Laing, and Franco Basaglia, and using history to do so,” wrote Matthew Smith, PhD. “Political beliefs, personal turmoil, and the spirit of the 1960s—not to mention the beginning of deinstitutionalization—all played a role in shaping their arguments, as such factors usually do, even in the most “scientific” areas of medicine.”




With the present situation, a lot has changed since research, science and digital technology have intertwined and allowed the discovery of treatments and innovations on how to treat and handle mental illness. There has been a lot of promising changes, however, we still need more human involvement and understanding in relation to our attitude and behavior with persons suffering from mental illness.

Understanding Art Therapy Treatment

Art therapy focuses mainly on psychotherapy. Art therapy has helped thousands of people.

Learn Art Therapy From Art Therapy Specialists

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Experts estimate that mental illnesses affect one in every three people. Imagine the extent and how widespread these conditions are if its estimation is correct. Incidence of mental illness is at its all-time high, and the increase of these cases is attributed to the use of technology probably, due to lesser stigma about the condition, more and more people are seeking help and openly talking about it.

Claire Henderson, Ph.D., and co-authors, wrote that “Evidence suggests that factors increasing the likelihood of treatment avoidance or delay before presenting for care include (1) lack of knowledge to identify features of mental illnesses, (2) ignorance about how to access treatment, (3) prejudice against people who have a mental illness and (4) expectation of discrimination against people diagnosed with mental illness.”

Innovation and research continue to find a deeper understanding of conditions and procedures; however, according to numerous accounts, people suffering from mental disorders shared that art therapy is a significant factor in their recovery.

Psychotherapy takes many forms. One of which is art therapy Art therapy utilizes artistic mediums and anything related to art to aid people in an exploration of their emotions and thoughts in a different vehicle.

“Art therapy utilizes images and metaphors to understanding yourself,” shares Lara Hanson, LCSW, a verified art therapist of Psychology Today. “By tapping into a creative, imaginative side of yourself becomes a new “window” or type of view into yourself that allows you to more effectively solve problems through a different perspective.”

What Is The Rationale Behind Art Therapy Treatment?

The rationale behind art therapy treatment is its utilization of art as a primary means of communication, which can be useful for instances where an individual finds it difficult to verbalize his thoughts and feelings. Using motor skills and physical objects like paper, art materials, and paintbrushes, often foster an atmosphere of connection between artists and the people around them. Other than helping those with mental health issues, art therapy is advantageous to different people including young children, elderlies, and those serving sentences in prison.

How Does This Treatment Function?

Art therapy functions as a three-way process between the client, therapist, and result. Art therapy offers an opportunity for creativity and expression. Its session can either be done in a one-to-one or group class depending on the needs of the client. Since art therapy is highly versatile, it can be carried out in a variety of settings: schools, hospitals, community centers, etc.  Art therapy typically lasts around 1 to 1.5 hours and should be done regularly. During its session, involvement or participation in the activity will solely depend on the individual and if you are in a group session, observing the class is also allowed. As part of art therapy, a counselor may encourage you to display your work in front of everyone. This way, it can help the patient accept his emotions and feel social acceptance when shared with others.

“Art therapy bypasses the left side and stimulates traumatic memory on the right side, as an individual processes their artwork, the speech area of the brain reactivates thereby reintegrating the right and left sides of the brain to promote healthy brain functioning,”  noted Susan Clifton, MSW, LCSW, a facilitator of psychotherapy groups and family and couple sessions and Social Work Director for Dorothea Dix Hospital.

What Are Some Of The Artistic Creativities Connected To This Form Of Treatment?

The versatility of art therapy can curb boredom when using different mediums. In an art therapy session, an individual may do some of the following exercises:


  • Creating a painting from a blank canvas is one of the purest forms of art. It gives you the freedom to do whatever you want. It can be intimidating especially for first-timers, but your art therapist will guide you by providing exercises and prompts. They will also teach basic techniques of painting.
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Art Sculpting

  • Sculpting is creating a figure using clay or other pliable materials. It allows the creation of a concrete structure of something intangible. You can bring to life your emotions and feelings.

Drawing / Illustration

  • Some people feel more comfortable in familiar and straightforward mediums. In a drawing, each material needed is readily available.


  • Utilizing a camera as a tool to see the world from a different perspective, hopefully, gives motivation and venue for self-expression for patients with mental illness.

These are just a few art therapy exercises that an individual can do. Art therapy exercises take place under the guidance of an art therapist, the individual and their specialist will discuss and explore an artwork.