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Psychological Disorders in Jane Eyre: Thoughts and Actions of Bertha Mason

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Introduction

Three of the world’s most concerning psychological disorders are Huntington’s disease, schizophrenia, and dissociative identity disorder (DID). Over ten million adults in the United States are affected by a severe mental illness. The difficulty people must face to cope with the effects along with the recovery of one of these diseases is a constant battle. Today, the concept of recovery for these patients is a determined mindset with international concord. The notion of recovery is “a commitment to the principle that people should be helped to live their lives to the fullest extent possible within the limitations of their illness” (Kirby). The people that are affected by a mental illness go against their own mind invariably. The character Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre is a perfect exemplar of someone who is dealing with a mental illness. She displays similar side effects and emotions to a more severe disease. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was first published in 1847 and is about an orphan named Jane Eyre, who grows up longing for love, independence, and has a passion for life. She lives with her aunt and cousins at Gateshead Hall. After years of being awfully mistreated, she is sent to Lowood Institution. After spending six years at Lowood, Jane finds a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she meets her employer: Edward Rochester. Jane gradually falls in love with Rochester, but he is put to the standard of marrying the socially eminent Blanche Ingram. Eventually, Rochester declares his love for Jane. He proposes to get married. On the wedding day, Jane finds out they cannot be legally married because Rochester is already married to Bertha Mason, who is mentally unstable and locked away for becoming a flight risk to herself and others. When Rochester brought Jane to see who Bertha Mason truly was, Jane witnessed how, “the lunatic grappled (Mr. Rochester’s) throat viciously and laid her teeth to his cheek. They struggled. She was a big woman […] more than once did she almost throttle him” (Bronte). After her encounter with Bertha Mason, Jane leaves Thornfield and Rochester for the Moor House, where she finds her cousins, whom she never knew about. Jane lives at Moor House for a year until she receives an alluring call from Rochester and returns to Thornfield. Jane comes back to the entire estate burned down, set on fire by Bertha, who jumped to her death shortly after. Rochester became blind as a result of his attempt at saving Bertha. In the end, Jane and Rochester marry and have a son. From lighting Rochester’s bed on fire to eventually committing suicide, it is evident that Bertha Mason has serious psychiatric issues. After finishing Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, an essential question is what mental disorder drove Bertha Mason to the brink of insanity.

Schizophrenia

A possible diagnosis for Bertha Mason would be schizophrenia. She displayed similar side effects and emotions to the mental disorder throughout the entirety of the book. Schizophrenia completely affects a person’s personality. The way a person thinks, feels, and behaves, almost every dynamic is altered when affected by Schizophrenia. It is described as “ a severe psychological disorder that touches every aspect of a person’s life. It is characterized by disturbances in thought and language, perception and attention […]” (Rathus 536). People with Schizophrenia develop an aberrant form of reality through hallucinations, delusions, and other symptoms. There are positive and negative symptoms that occur when one has this mental disorder. A positive symptom adds a behavior caused by the disorder, while a negative symptom takes away a behavior. “The positive symptoms of schizophrenia may include delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized speech, thoughts, beliefs, movements, and behaviors” (Izenberg 298). A few negative symptoms that would take away from the behaviors would be reduced speaking and general happiness in everyday life, loss of interest in social activities, and lack of personal hygiene. Delusions are a common attribute that occurs in most people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia. They are false beliefs or actions that are not actually occurring in reality. One would believe that they are being harmed or harassed or that someone was following them. Hallucinations also highly occur in people who have schizophrenia. A hallucination is a false perception, where a person will see, hear, smell, or feel something or someone who in reality, is not there. There are some serious cognitive symptoms that could occur in a person with schizophrenia as well. It depends on whether or not the cognitive symptoms would be subtle or severe, but they do occur. Some people could even have trouble with their memory. An example of a cognitive symptom would be the inability to understand or make decisions based on the information given to them. Another example would be that someone would have difficulty applying or using information directly after acquiring the disease. One significant part about the the mental illness, schizophrenia, is the risks along with the causes of the mental illness. “The word schizophrenia means a splitting of the mind. […] Physicians do not know the exact cause of schizophrenia” (Thompson n.p). The main cause of this disease is genetics. Schizophrenia has been proven that it does genetically run throughout families, but there are also cases where the patient did not have a family member affected with this illness. So, genetics is not the sole factor of the cause of schizophrenia. Other factors that could have a potential impact on this brain disorder would be environment and brain chemistry. Scientists came up with the theory that it is not just one gene that causes schizophrenia but several genes along with the specific interactions between those genes. With a patient’s brain chemistry, they could have an imbalance of compound reactions associated with neurotransmitters. A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that sends signals to other neurons. The neurotransmitters that are affected when dealing with schizophrenia are dopamine, glutamate, and a few others. There are also environmental factors that can cause the disorder as well. Some of these factors would be an exposure to specific viruses or a pregnancy or birth complication. Infants exposed to malnutrition or toxins could lead to an altered brain development. Also, the brain goes through adjustments when undergoing puberty, causing schizophrenia to begin in more drastic ways. There is no way to prevent this specific mental disorder, and since there are multiple factors for the cause of schizophrenia, scientists cannot confirm a specific cure for the mental disease. It is also known that “symptoms of schizophrenia usually start between ages 16 and 30” (National Institute of Mental Health). On the other hand, there are treatments for patients with schizophrenia. People with this mental disorder are obligated to require lifelong treatment. To manage this disorder, a person would need to use medications as well as therapy from a psychiatrist to manage the symptoms. One major medicinal treatment would be antipsychotics, which are a daily pill taken by the patient or an injection every other month. At first, the psychiatrist will try to maintain the symptoms with the lowest dose and continue increasing until the right amount is administered to lessen the symptoms. Some antidepressants or antianxiety pills will be distributed for further help for the overall end result. There are serious side effects to taking antipsychotics, therefore some patients will refuse to take the medication and will most likely receive an injection instead of a pill as treatment. After obtaining a medication that effectively works, a patient would then turn to psychosocial treatment. These treatments would include individual, social, or family therapy. These therapies help patients with completing everyday tasks, such as attending school and work. People with schizophrenia are less likely to be hospitalized or have recurring symptoms if they participate in these different therapies. There is also coordinated specialty care (CSC), that involves medication, therapy, employment, along with family and social situations that are all aimed toward lessening symptoms and increasing the condition of each patients’ lifestyle. There are support groups that help people affected by schizophrenia to maintain their self care and employment while maintaining their symptoms. Throughout the book, Jane Eyre, Bertha Mason displays very similar symptoms to schizophrenia. When Jane Eyre first encounters Bertha Mason, Jane explains her experience by saying, “Mr. Rochester flung me behind him; the lunatic (Bertha) sprung and grappled his throat viciously and laid her teeth to his cheek. They struggled. She was a big woman. […] more than once she almost throttled him” (Bronte 343). Schizophrenia is a valid mental illness that drove Bertha Mason to insanity.

Huntington’s Disease

Another possible diagnosis for Bertha Mason would be Huntington’s disease, which is the degeneration of specific brain cells in different parts of the brain. This disease is described as “A fatal genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It deteriorates a person’s physical and mental abilities during their prime working years […]” (What is Huntington’s Disease). People with this mental disease deal with uncontrollable choreatic movements, violent behaviors, and dementia. Huntington’s disease is a rare neuropsychiatric condition, because it is an autosomal dominant hereditary disease. “Only about 5 out of 100,000 people develop Huntington’s disease, because it is transmitted from parent to child, only children of a parent who has the abnormal gene are at risk, and they have a 50 percent chance of developing the disease” (Izenberg 456). This disease affects everything in a person’s life, from not only speaking to swallowing/walking, but even everyday actions. There are many symptoms that can cause someone who is affected to have a very hard time getting a job or to be out in public. The main symptoms are mood swings, depression, memory, decision making, and unwanted movements. Along with the symptoms, it is shown that “most people with Huntington’s disease develop signs and symptoms in their 30’s or 40’s” (Huntington’s Disease). Although most symptoms begin to show during one’s midlife, it is also possible for them to start from anytime in childhood to old age. Once a person is diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, the disease continuously damages nerve cells in the brain that eventually lead to fatal outcomes. Some symptoms can occur earlier than other symptoms, and the mood changes are involuntary. Dystonia is known as the first unpredicted movement symptom in a patient with Huntington’s Disease. Dystonia is when one struggles with spontaneous muscle contractions that cause repeated and spiral movements. Weight loss is another major symptom that occurs throughout all stages of this illness. Along with multiple symptoms, there are a variety of treatments. Although there are no cures for Huntington’s Disease, the treatments vary depending on the specific symptoms the patient is experiencing. “There is a medicine to control the erratic movements caused by the disease. This medicine blocks the production of dopamine in the brain” (Izenberg 457). Doctors will start out with a drug called olanzapine or tetrabenazine, where they help conceal the effects of chorea. With patients who have a more threatening or violent behavior, doctors give them an atypical antipsychotic drug. With patients who experience compulsive actions and judgement, they would receive Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs are a combination of antidepressants and anxiety medicine. Including multiple treatments that help control the effects of Huntington’s Disease, most patients will go through multiple therapy sessions such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and nutritional support therapy. With the causes of Huntington’s Disease, men and women are equally likely to acquire the specific disruptive gene. This disease does not skip generations, so the only way to receive the gene is if one of your parents has it as well. The mutation of the gene HTT is the only way to get the mental disease, and in the end Huntington’s Disease is a severe mental illness that causes people to suffer with intense symptoms eventually, leading to death. In the book, Jane Eyre, Bertha mason expresses the same thoughts and actions as those with Huntington’s Disease. When Mr. Rochester was justifying his actions of hiding Bertha, he explained that “Bertha Mason is mad; and she came of a mad family – idiots and maniacs through three generations!” (Bronte 340). At this point in the novel, it is presented how Bertha Mason’s mental illness occurred throughout several generations of her family, which is the main cause of Huntington’s Disease. Therefore, Huntington’s Disease is a highly possible cause of Bertha Mason’s insanity.

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Dissociative Identity Disorder

A third possible mental disorder that Bertha could have had is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Dissociation is when a person experiences disconnection between thoughts or memories, and most people have encountered a mild type of dissociation. An example of dissociation would be daydreaming or “zoning out” while working on a project, which is considered to be a common factor. Dissociative Identity Disorder is a mental illness that is a more severe form of dissociation. Dissociative Identity Disorder is when a person cannot differ between reality and imaginary situations while experiencing multiple personalities. Spencer Rathus, a psychologist, explains that Dissociative Identity Disorder is when “two or more identities or personalities, each with distinct traits and memories, ‘occupy’ the same person” (Rathus 528). The type of symptoms a person will have is based on the specific type of Dissociative Disorder. There are three types of Dissociative Disorders:

Depersonalization-derealization disorder, Dissociative identity disorder, and Dissociative amnesia. Depersonalization-derealization disorder is when a person is having a sense of detachment from their own body, and they are experiencing unreality from their own mind. During these altered realities, people know that it is not happening, but the experience distresses them. If someone is going through an episode of Depersonalization-derealization disorder, they usually display little emotion and inertia. The second type of a Dissociation Disorder is Dissociative identity disorder. This type of disorder is when a person struggles with two or more personalities, where one cannot recall the other personality. Patients explain that they feel that they have another entity inside of them. People with Dissociative Identity Disorder have chronic memory gaps causing problems in their everyday lives. The multiple personalities in this disorder is described as “the identities of people […] can be very different from one another. They might even have different eyeglass prescriptions” (Rathus 529). The third type of a Dissociative Disorder is Dissociative Amnesia, where a person is incapable of remembering information about themselves. This disorder could not be viewed as forgetfulness. People with Dissociative Amnesia are unable to remember recent memories, going all the way to forgetting their name or childhood. All of these Dissociative Disorders have similar experiences, any patient with this disorder could have not only one but all of them. The cause of these disorders is usually due to traumatic events that were so overwhelming that the patient “blocked” their own thoughts and memory. Patients could also experience traumatic flashbacks to these events and become violent and unsafe toward others. The most common symptoms of all these disorders are amnesia (memory loss) of specific events or information about themselves, a deceived perception of reality, stress, and depression. With the likelihood of a person having this disorder, it is explained that “it’s estimated that 2% of people experience dissociative disorders, with women being more likely than men to be diagnosed. Almost half of adults in the United States experience at least one depersonalization/derealization episode in their lives, with only 2% meeting the full criteria for chronic episodes” (Multiple Personality Disorder). The treatment for this mental disorder would be a series of medications such as antidepressants as well as management of going through psychotherapies. Psychotherapy is when the patient diagnosed with the disorder will have the opportunity to talk about their condition and obtain help throughout the battle with their own mind. In Jane Eyre, Bertha Mason could potentially have Dissociative Identity Disorder with her sudden change in personalities and moods throughout the book. Mr. Rochester explained Bertha’s appearance and personality by saying, “Compare these clear eyes with the red balls yonder––this face with that mask––this form with that bulk […]” (Bronte 343). He describes how Bertha is constantly changing with her feelings and state of mind. Dissociative Identity Disorder could be a valid mental illness that led Bertha Mason to insanity.

Final thoughts

All three of these life-altering psychological disorders consist of their own horrendous effects on a person’s thoughts and actions. Between hallucinating with Schizophrenia, experiencing multiple personalities with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and involuntarily moving/thinking with Huntington’s Disease, all of these mental illnesses could qualify as a valid diagnosis for Bertha Mason. She has shown at least one symptom of each of these disorders, but the one disease she mostly resembled throughout the book is Huntington’s Disease. Not only has Bertha displayed the symptoms of Huntington’s Disease, but it was stated in the book that generations of her family members had the illness. She began developing signs of the disease around her midlife. I believe Huntington’s Disease is the most accurate mental illness for Bertha Mason, and if she were to receive the treatments that we have today, she would have been able to maintain her symptoms and live life easier compared to hers throughout the novel.

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Psychological Disorders in Jane Eyre: Thoughts and Actions of Bertha Mason. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/psychological-disorders-in-jane-eyre-thoughts-and-actions-of-bertha-mason/
“Psychological Disorders in Jane Eyre: Thoughts and Actions of Bertha Mason.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/psychological-disorders-in-jane-eyre-thoughts-and-actions-of-bertha-mason/
Psychological Disorders in Jane Eyre: Thoughts and Actions of Bertha Mason. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/psychological-disorders-in-jane-eyre-thoughts-and-actions-of-bertha-mason/> [Accessed 3 Oct. 2022].
Psychological Disorders in Jane Eyre: Thoughts and Actions of Bertha Mason [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2022 Oct 3]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/psychological-disorders-in-jane-eyre-thoughts-and-actions-of-bertha-mason/
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