The Rhetoric of Psychopathology: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding and Talking About Mental Health




Stigall, Regan

Access rights

Worldwide access

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This thesis explores the manner by which psychopathology, the study of “abnormal” cognitions and behaviors based on societal norms, is influenced and changed by language use patterns. There is a historical cycle of abuse against individuals experiencing psychopathology, which I examine through the lens of Foucault’s analysis on Europe in the age of the Enlightenment and the rise of asylums in France and Gould’s examination on the growth of the hereditarian movement in the United States. These historical abuses, in the contexts of confinement, exploitation, othering, and ostracization, are predicated on the notion that certain diagnostic terms were used invectively, thereby creating a divide between acceptable and unacceptable cognitions and behavior. Utilizing rhetorical theories posited by Burke and Butler, this thesis explores the manner by which certain language can change society’s perspective regarding the reality of psychopathology. The modern day exigency for this analysis comes in the form of horror film and digital games, as well as other popular culture platforms like Tumblr and YouTube wherein negative and fear-based narratives of psychopathology are perpetuated as incontrovertible truth. In reality, these accounts linguistically reflect exaggerated or entirely false accounts. Using an example of a podcast published on YouTube and the supportive aspects of the Tumblr platform, this thesis will examine the manner by which positive, empathetic portrayals of psychopathology can change the narrative of the aforementioned false reality. Finally, this thesis will offer potential solutions by which society can presently change the reality of fear and othering that it has instituted in these various platforms. The explored solutions consist of implementing positive, widespread portrayals of psychopathology and establishing quality mental health education for children and teenagers.



Invective language., Dramatism., Rhetoric., Psychopathology., Mental illness., Asylums., Horror film., Social media., Tumblr., YouTube.