The contemporary mode of life is tremendously intense, leading to numerous nervous disorders and mental illnesses among the representatives of all age groups of the society. According to the 10th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10), there are numerous deviations in mental health (World Health Organization, n.d). Moreover, some of the disorders may lead to severe consequences, such as self-destruction and suicides. The most typical psychopathological symptoms may be studied on the example of the mental state and behavior of Esther Greenwood, the main hero and the narrator of the novel The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Despite the superficial simplicity of the case, the problem of diagnosing mental illness is rather complicated, suggesting various diagnoses.
At the beginning of the narration, Esther Greenwood is completely healthy. She is a young woman of 19 years old. Her father has died long long before the story, and her mother, who works as a teacher, cannot suggest her daughter an opportunity to lead a carefree life. The girl is smart, funny, and, like many talented people, tremendously sensitive. As the story goes on, Esther Greenwood demonstrates symptoms of a nervous disorder.
Analyzing Esther Greenwood’s state of mind, certain types of mood (affective) disorders contributes to the assessment of the diagnosis.
Among the suggested F30-F39 classification, manic episode (F30) seems to be the least appropriate diagnosis in the case of Esther. In fact, the above-mentioned disorder is characterized with elevated mood that can be accompanied by the growing “quantity and speed of physical and mental activity” (World Health Organization, n.d., p. 94). Morever, such deviance is related to a single unreasonable incident. The description of psychopathological symptoms does not correspond to the peculiarities of Esther Greenwood’s behavior, because the girl is constantly in low mood.
Bipolar affective disorder (F31) seems to be the next least appropriate diagnosis. According to the ICD-10, bipolar affective disorder can be easily identified as recurrent incidents of profound changes in a patient’s mood and behavior. An elevation of mood and extremely active behavior is replaced with the gloomy mood and reduced energy and activity. As a rule, a patient completely recovers from the above-mentioned disorder (World Health Organization, n.d.). On the one hand, during the first period of her disease, Esther Greenwood has symptoms of bipolar affective disorder. Having finished the junior year in college, she is extremely lucky to win a prestigious writer’s contest. The prize is a chance to work at a famous fashion magazine in New York and communicate with numerous celebrities. Moreover, the sponsors give many expensive presents to the talented girl. Esther Greenwood is immensely happy, displaying an elevation of mood. On the other hand, euphoric mental state does not last long, being replaced by a depression. The girl hides her gifts out of sight. Later, she takes out the presents, placing them all round the room. The period of ecstatic mood changes into the severe disregard, and she “cuts the plastic starfish off the sunglasses case for the baby to play with” (Plath, 2003, p.4). Despite some symptoms of bipolar affective disorder (F31), the above-mentioned emotions may be inherent to a healthy person under the same circumstances. Therefore, mood swings may not be related to a mental illness. Upon the comprehensive analysis, Esther Greenwood’s disease is obvious. During the period of her illness, the protagonist feels “very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel” (Plath, 2003, p.3). Therefore, the possibility of bipolar affective disorder is rejected.
During the narration, Esther Greenwood’s health is worsening. Obviously, she suffers from depressive episode (F32) that is denoted as “depressed mood, loss of interest and enjoyment, and reduced energy leading to increased fatigability and diminished activity” (World Health Organization, n.d., p. 100). Secondary symtoms incude decreased concentration and surveillance, low self-respect and self-possession, feelings of self-reproach and uselessness. To illustrate the assessment further, Esther Greenwood’s presents some complexes. She recognizes that after 19 years of wins, she is an unlucky person , “letting up, slowing down, dropping clean out of race” (Plath, 2003, p.16). The girl even keeps the list of failures that is becoming longer. She thinkst that she is an awful dancer, has no sense of stability, sings in a terrible way. Moreover, she cannot ride a horse and play chess. Finally, she does not know German, Hebrew, and Chinese. Moreover, when she appears next to men of smaller height than hers, she feels “gawky and morbid as somebody in a sideshow ” (Plath, 2003, p.7). In fact, the issue of relations with men becomes her major problem (Plath, 2003, p.40). Additionally, individuals with depressive episode suffer from depressive thoughts of the future. Moreover, patients think about death and often make attempts to commit a suicide. The death obsession has pursued Esther Greenwood since first days of her staying in New York. The story of the Rosenbergs, who have been sentenced to death, extremely impressed the protagonist. She informs that the terrible images are like a delusion, “the cadaver’s head – or what there was left of it – floated up behind my eggs and bacon at breakfast and behind the face of Buddy Will” (Path, 2003, p.3). The girl has fears that something terrible is happening to her during summer work. She is ashamed of her uncomfortable expensive clothes, while the Rosenbergs have been executed. The girl loses her interest in life, feels an extreme isolation, “moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo” (Path, 2003, p.3). Esther Greenwood thinks of several ways to commit a suicide, paying attention to every smallest detail. For example, she wants to be hung up or to be drowned. Finally, she decides to eat fifty pills.
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The alternative diagnosis of Esther Greenwood may be persistent mood (affective) disorder (F34). In addition to the above-mentioned symptoms, the protagonist cannot sleep for several weeks, suffering from insomnia.
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