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Time's 2017 Top 10 Fictional Characters Includes 2 With Mental Illness and 1 on the Autism Spectrum

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On Tuesday, Time magazine released its list of the top 10 fictional characters of 2017. Of the 10 characters, two have mental illnesses, and one is on the autism spectrum.

Randall Pearson, played by Sterling K. Brown, from “This Is Us” placed 10th on the list. Time’s explanation is based on Pearson’s compelling storyline of being raised in a family of a different race and how it affects him. But Pearson also has anxiety — he’s had panic attacks since childhood, and they typically stem from pressure to “have it all together” as well as major stressors in life, like having his first child.

Mental illness in the news is largely violence-based, and while Pearson is fictional, African Americans are 10 percent more likely to experience serious psychological distress than their non-hispanic white counterparts. The character helps normalize mental illness, especially for a demographic that is less likely to seek mental health care.

Pearson’s storyline resonated with many people who have anxiety.

Mighty contributor Kristina Cherep wrote:

Randall is a man with a successful career, a wife, and two beautiful daughters. He seems to be the perfect man who has no flaws — until his anxiety starts to build up and he starts having anxiety attacks again. I’m not saying this makes him imperfect; it just makes him seem more human…

The fact that I was able to see myself within him made me feel even less alone. It made me realize how universal anxiety truly is. I’m sure if this show was in a different language that I didn’t know and I was watching these scenes of Randall I would still feel the same way.

Hannah Baker, played by Katherine Langford, from “13 Reasons Why” was number nine on Time’s list. The show centers around the tapes Baker leaves after her suicide for people who had an impact on her. “13 Reasons Why” stirred up controversy when critics said the show glamorized suicide and crossed lines with graphic scenes. But Time named the character in its list because of the controversy — it was the most tweeted-about show of the year.

Despite many of its problematic elements, many appreciated the conversations Baker’s character started. In response to the show, Mighty contributor Robin Lynn wrote:

To the teen who feels unheard and unloved, unwanted and unseen, like an outcast disposable to the next rumor floating around their class: I hear you. To the teen wondering if anyone notices you walking down the hallways with your head down and earphones in so you can drown out the sounds of their mocking voices and their demeaning looks: I see you.

Julia the Muppet from “Sesame Street,” played by puppeteer Stacy Gordon, was named number seven on the list. She was the first muppet in a decade to join the group. Julia is a 4-year-old on the autism spectrum. Time said Julia “is especially well-positioned to educate kids” on autism, though a few critics worry she perpetuates autism stereotypes. Julia displays characteristics such as echoing what she’s just heard from her friends and being more focused on her paintings than what’s going on around her, two common traits in autistic people, though it’s absolutely crucial to remember every autistic person is different.

The entertainment industry still has a lot of work to do when it comes to including characters with disabilities and mental illnesses, but these characters are important because they represent a traditionally underrepresented demographic. Twenty percent of Americans have a disability, but less than 2 percent of characters on television have a disability, according to the Ruderman Family Foundation. On top of this, 95 percent of characters with a disability are played by able-bodied actors

Photos via Facebook

Originally published: December 7, 2017
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