Professional wrestling, as a form of scripted entertainment, has relied on gimmicks and narratives that reinforce and glorify stereotypes related to mental illness. While scholars have studied stereotypes in professional wrestling, most existing work focuses on racial and ethnic stereotypes. Scholarship has also addressed the impacts of violent, theatrical wrestling content on viewers. Professional wrestling uses troubling stereotypes of mental illness to craft dramatic, violent content. Although significant progress has been made in how society understands mental illness, misunderstandings and stigmas persist. For example, individuals suffering from mental illness are often imagined as violent, dangerous, unstable, abnormal, and incapable of forming healthy relationships. Additionally, promos and ringside commentary often supplement stereotypical characterizations by using exaggerated and shocking rhetoric associated with mental illness. These rhetorical strategies include describing wrestlers as deranged, insane, and unhinged. This article analyzes Mick Foley’s wrestling gimmick Mankind as a significant example of a performance of mental illness in professional wrestling. I summarize the origins of the gimmick and describe how the gimmick engages aspects of mental health and mental illness. I reflect on the implications of Foley’s Mankind for wrestling fans and within a broader cultural context where mental health in media is garnering more scholarly attention. This work contributes to a growing body of scholarship on professional wrestling by examining how wrestling uses a widespread public health concern as theatrical material.



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