‘Hannibal’ What it Speaks About Mental Health

Jun Kim
5 min readJan 14, 2021

The first thing that comes to mind when saying the name Hannibal is a crazy man who eats people. Yet as becoming an audience member of this series, I’ve noticed that I’ve focused more on our main protagonist Will Graham who is known to be a mentally unstable special FBI agent.

Dr. Hannibal Lecter with Will Graham — ‘Hannibal’


A summary about the 1st season of Hannibal is about Will Graham who was originally a teacher at the FBI academy but is put out into the field to solve crimes in which in this case are serial killers and I mean brutal and gruesome ones. However, with Will’s mental illness he is supervised with the help of psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Will processes the crime scene by stepping inside the killer’s shoes and re-creates the crime scene and will recite these words “This is my design.” Throughout each case, he can figure out what each killer’s motives are and their thinking process. But after killing someone for the first time, he has somewhat ‘become’ that killer who was also Garrett Jacob Hobbs aka the ‘Minnesota Shrike’. Will struggles to fight off Garrett but constantly dreams of him and feels like he is becoming him. We may start thinking that he has an identity disorder but it’s more than just that.

While watching the series it definitely feels like we are watching the world through Will Graham’s eyes. Each character is obnoxious in a way towards him and I couldn’t help it to think that every single character we encounter is all snobs. Later realizing that maybe we are looking through Will’s mind and his glasses. And with the help of Hannibal, he is actually beginning to play with Will and seems to be experimenting with him, watching him what he would do next and not actually cope with his unstable mind. Twisted and sick this may be, Hannibal claims that Will Graham’s problem was that his mind was ‘pure empathy’. It is through the empathic emotion that causes him to know the killers so well and understand their feelings and motives. Hannibal sees him as a friend as well because he understands him. They seem to understand each other. At the end of the day after a long stressful one too, don’t we all want to talk to someone about it? Especially someone who can relate and understand us? Will’s mental illness is definitely something I have never come across and it was also difficult to fully understand him.

There is a certain point in the series that Will’s special gift is also something that is not good for his mental illness but causing him to get worse. But at the same time, it is through the work that seems to keep him going. Don’t we all sometimes feel that way? A workaholic can’t stop working because it still drives them to do more, somehow satisfying themselves yet the result gives them extreme stress.

Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter

Not only do we look at Will’s broken mind, but Hannibal’s as well. They are two different people with two different mindsets yet somehow in the same category. Hannibal may not seem like he has a mental illness nonetheless he is a psychopath with very little emotion. Speaking of emotion this man seems to pretend he has any as well. We don’t see much of Hannibal’s past so far in the first season and can’t say where the cannibalism has all started. I found it very difficult to wrap my head around these two characters. Their relationship in the first season only seems like a doctor-patient with a small friendship relationship. But once the second season rolls in their relationship hit many obstacles and it’s hard to say where it’s going. As the third season rolls their relationship also tends to become more romantic at one point. This is where I had to google the comparison between a psychopath and a sociopath and all I could confirm was that Hannibal is a true psychopath yet Will Graham may just be a mentally ill person who seeks peace and have the grasping of what is real.

When I see Hannibal Lecter, to be honest, I see a very lonely man who kills only the rude, but it is his only motive and engine that will keep him moving forwards. Maybe it’s his only true purpose? Don’t we all want a purpose in life to keep going and feel proud of?

The main point of this article is that as a person who has not experienced an extreme case of mental illness, I can’t fully relate and don’t know whether the mental illness portrayed here in the series is true to its nature. The one line that made me think harder about mental illness was in the 10th episode of the first season. ‘We know so little about mental illness… It’s not about finding solutions, it’s about managing expectations.’ Definitely in this generation, mental illness has become a more sensitive topic and a real one too and because of this, I’ve heard many people say to me that our generation has become weaker in a sense. At first, I disagreed with this statement but I begin to realize maybe that statement is true. The world is changing so fast we can’t keep up but have to. All we do is compare ourselves with social media and only wish we were like the people on the other side of the screens. Physical discipline is considered abuse, drugs are easily found in children’s pockets, generations blame other generations for the world they are given, and yet our only weapon to defend ourselves is ignorance. Ignoring and not caring is how we move on with our lives. Can we fully empathize with people as Will Graham does? Maybe not towards serial killers but towards people are need of it. Can we fully understand someone’s mental state and their perspective towards the world?

Let me know what you thought about Hannibal and how it spoke about mental health or anything you found interesting!