Code Book
Mental Health Code Book

Mental Health Code Book

Definition of Mental Illness

Any character labeled or referred to as having a mental illness, even if the character is self-diagnosing. Also include characters receiving treatment or counseling for a mental illness (depression, anorexia, alcoholism or other substance abuse, etc.) “That person is crazy” or “Don’t be a schizoid” are examples of referencing someone as mentally ill. Questions are not to be considered as labeling, e.g., “What, are you crazy?”

Type of Mental Illness

Refer to the mental illness code sheet. If the type of mental illness is never specified, use code 12 “illness implied or unknown.” The category of “other” (code 11) is for a specified mental illness described that is currently not listed.

Positive or Negative Portrayal

Code for the overall sense of the character’s portrayal on a 3-point scale. How does the character’s behavior portray mental illness? For example, positive portrayals include supportive or caring behaviors as well as depictions as a hero or role model. Violent, criminal, incompetent or other antisocial behaviors would be coded as negative portrayals. Code for the overall sense of the character’s portrayal; if there is not an obviously positive or negative portrayal then use the neutral code. References can be coded as neutral.

Substance Abuse

Character uses drugs, alcohol, or self-medicates to the point where their abilities become impaired. Substance abuse is also the mixing of alcohol and pills. Substance abuse can also include taking more than a reasonable amount of prescribed pills, for example putting the bottle up to one’s mouth or taking a handful.


Refer to the mental illness code sheet. Character receives some sort of treatment for their illness is either directly shown or referred to. For example, a character undergoes psychotherapy sessions such as counseling, or psychiatric treatments such as medications or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, shock therapy). If the character is implied to have visited a counselor or hospital (seen leaving or makes a reference about an earlier visit), then use code 6 for having received an “implied / unknown treatment.” The category of “other” (code 5) is for a specified mental illness described that is currently not listed. Please inform a supervisor whenever using code 10 so we may add the illness to future code sheets.

Treatment is Helpful

Character receives some obvious benefit from treatment, or is better off after therapy sessions. If multiple treatments are applied and one is successful, code for the overall treatment being effective.

– Negatively effective 
– Unable to determine/Neutral 
– Positively effective

Portrayed as Violent

The character is physically violent or abusive, or other characters are shown to fear this character because of the potential for violent behavior. Also code this if the character was involved in aggressive behavior (bullying, robbery, etc.)

Mental Illness Labeling

Record if a mental health professional labels the character as mentally ill. If the character is receiving treatment (visits a hospital, ward, psychiatrist, counseling session, etc.) then they should be coded as labeled by a professional. If the character is only referred to as being/acting crazy by a non-professional, code them as such.

Mental Health Professional (MHP) Present

Defined as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, psychiatric nurse practitioner, marriage and family therapist, clinical counselor, or other professional specially trained to deal with mental illness. Code for each relationship the MHP has with other characters. So if the MHP interacts with two mentally ill characters, code each interaction in the appropriate character’s condition. Be careful not to include interns or orderlies assisting mental health professionals since these people are not responsible for diagnosing or treatment.

MHP Portrayed as Helpful

The patient gets some visible benefit from his/her interaction with the mental health professional.

Portrayal of MHP

Positive portrayal would be a serious (non-comedic) character or one who gives positive, effective, medically valid treatment that helps the patient or attempts to help the patient. Negative portrayal would be a character that is depicted as wild, unprofessional, sexually manipulative, gives unsound medical advice, or does not help the patient in a normal or effective manner. If there is no strongly positive or negative portrayal of the MHP, then code neutral.