Character Motivation Thesaurus Entry: Coming To Grips With Mental Illness

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

If you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

Courtesy: Pixabay

We hope the sample list of ideas below helps you better understand how your character’s motivation drives the story. For a much more detailed entry, follow this link to the official Character Motivation Thesaurus.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Coming to grips with mental illness

Forms This Might Take: Coming to grips with one’s mental illness diagnosis can be a long and painful process. Many times, the illness cannot be fully overcome. …

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Phobias
  • Schizophrenia

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): Mental illness can impact a person’s life and their basic needs in so many ways. It can hurt relationships, making it difficult for the person to find love and belonging. The accompanying roadblocks and limitations can…

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Studying the illness to better educate oneself
  • Seeking therapy
  • Creating a schedule for medications and sticking to it
  • Seeing things in the long-term rather than the short-term and making decisions accordingly (e.g., going to a party though one would rather stay home because one realizes getting out and socializing is a good idea)

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Giving up one’s free-spiritedness or individuality in favor of a more traditional lifestyle
  • Having to live with side effects from medication (fuzziness, lack of drive, sexual dysfunction, etc.)

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Denial; refusing or being unwilling to see the need for change
  • One’s own mind working as an enemy, convincing one that things are fine as they are
  • Unhealthy influencers who encourage one not to change
  • Low self-esteem that causes self-doubt and negative thought patterns, making
  • Recurring set-backs that thwart one’s attempts to get better

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • Broken relationships due to one burning bridges with others
  • Never being able to achieve self-fulfillment due to one chasing impossible dreams
  • Homelessness and isolation
  • Health issues arising from living a prolonged unsafe lifestyle

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • True love as the cure for one’s mental illness

Click here to return to the list of sample entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

What does your character want more than anything else and what is he willing to do to achieve it? 

On the surface, the protagonist’s goal seems to be the most important, but the inner motivation driving your character toward this goal, despite pain, suffering, fear, setbacks, and sacrifice is what really draws readers in.

Understanding the four cornerstones of character arc and how they frame a story is paramount for today’s writers. To help with this, we have integrated our popular Character Motivation Thesaurus into our online library at One Stop For Writers.

Each entry has been enhanced to provide even more information about your character’s motivation, and is cross-referenced with our other thesauruses for easy searchability. We’ve also included a must-see tutorial on Character Motivation. Interested in seeing these expanded character motivation entries?  Head on over and take advantage of our FREE TRIAL!


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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Aunt Scripty
3 years ago

It’s really important also not to fall into the trope of Love As A Cure for Mental Illness. While supportive relationships can improve symptoms and provide support, in the end, love does not cure depression, or post-traumatic stress, or a phobia.

Hell, it’s important not to fall into the trope of Curing Long Term Mental Illness.

Someone with Bipolar Disorder or schizophrenia is not “cured” by finding the right medication, though they may have improvement in their daily life. They’re still schizophrenic. The goal shouldn’t be “normalcy”, though this may be a lesson your character needs to learn. The goal should be “better than yesterday,” in a lot of cases, but it may take time for your character to come to terms with that as a goal.

There are a lot of good resources for writing these characters well, but first and foremost I’d recommend my good friend ScriptShrink on Tumblr: , who’s an excellent resource for those looking to write characters with mental illness.

And overall, please, pretty please, research the disorder you’re considering giving your character FIRST. Read stories from patients with that disease–it’s as easy as a Google search.

Write these characters with respect, because real people live in the real world with these conditions, and we owe it to them as writers to respect their lives and the hardships they’ve faced.

xoxo, Aunt Scripty

3 years ago
Reply to  Aunt Scripty

100% agree–most mental illnesses will never be overcome, they are lifelong, just as having a missing limb or having other illness is. But overcoming a wound in fiction means either moving past it or subduing it so that it doesn’t control one to a unhealthy degree, and that’s our drive here–to show writers general ideas on how to help the character put supports in place so they can learn to cope with their illness rather than have it control them and limit their happiness more than necessary with a condition. And thank you for that link. Definitely researching the disorder is so very important, because all disorders just can’t be covered adequately in one simple post like this. Our post here (like all our entries for every topic we write) is merely a jumping off point for writers. 🙂