Michelle Carter’s Trial Sparked A Major Mental Illness Debate

Hulu’s new series The Girl From Plainville retells the gripping case of Michelle Carter. Carter, 17, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, 18, to commit suicide on July 12, 2014.

Carter’s controversial trial in 2017 shocked many, as lawyers on both sides attempted to convince Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz one way or the other. The prosecution used Carter and Roy’s text messages to argue that she had directly caused his death, while the defense claimed that Roy acted alone, per CNN.

As more details about the case surfaced, Carter’s trial also sparked a conversation about mental health. Both Carter and Roy were battling mental illnesses, and while her trial continued, each side discussed Carter and Roy’s mental states leading up to his death.

Here’s what happened in real life—and how The Girl From Plainville is bringing the same topics to light.

Both Carter and Roy struggled with anxiety and depression.

Carter and Roy’s history of mental illness was brought up often throughout the trial. Both grappled with their mental health and had gone to therapy and counseling, per The Cut.

But psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin also argued that Carter’s medications had altered her mental state. While testing, he said that in April 2014, a doctor changed Carter’s prescription to five milligrams of Celexa, an antidepressant, according to Esquire. She had also been prescribed Prozac.

Breggin said the drugs had made Carter “transform” from a “life-long helper” to an apathetic manic-depressive, according to Mass Live. “During this time we see her having adverse reactions to the drugs. A remarkable nightmare series … in which the devil actually tells her to kill herself,” he explained. “She is still so afraid of the devil that months later she still sleeps with her little doggy because she’s so scared of the devil.”

He also said Carter had been subject to “involuntary intoxication,” meaning she didn’t know right from wrong, due to the medications’ influence. It’s worth noting that “involuntary intoxication” is a “legal term,” according to Breggin—not an official mental health term listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Carter’s parents agreed with Breggin: “I am convinced the medication she was taking affected her mental state which made it difficult for her to distinguish between right and wrong,” her dad wrote in a character statement submitted to the court.

Carter also battled an eating disorder and self-harm.

Carter had also dealt with an eating disorder. Her friend from high school, Samantha Boardman, said in court that Carter often confided in her when she was struggling. “I watched out for her, what she was eating,” Boardman explained, per South Coast Today.

Carter would text Boardman when she was having a hard time or resorting to self-harm, according to Oxygen. “I am having a mental breakdown,” she sent one day. “What’s wrong?!” Boardman replied, “Have u hurt yourself today? Michelle u can talk to me.”

“I was doing okay and then I had pasta for dinner and I completely lost it I got so much anxiety I didn’t know what else to do,” Carter replied, adding that she needed to “get that knife out of my house. ”

Eventually, Carter was diagnosed with anorexia, and was sent to a clinic to receive treatment, per The Wrap.

Carter tried to convince Roy to seek help before his death.

Roy suffered from depression—he had tried to take his own life once before by swallowing a bottle of pills, The Wrap reported. After Carter left the clinic, she told Roy to consider getting treatment, admitting that the program had helped her.

“Michelle had tried to counsel him and be there for him and listen to him and understand what he was going through, and then two months prior to his death a switch was flipped,” Erin Lee Carr, who directed a documentary about Carter’s case called I Love You, Now Dietold RollingStone.

The cast worked with mental health professionals while filming The Girl From Plainville.

Elle Fanning and Colton Ryan, who play Carter and Roy in the new Hulu series, explained how they tackled tough mental health topics while making the show. “We worked with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,” Colton told Entertainment Weekly.

“I also closely worked with a social worker on a more granular level. Because it was important to me in terms of the way I read these scripts and the way I wanted it to come across was like, when you carry around that kind of heaviness [that Roy felt]it doesn’t show up in every moment of every day,” he said.

She added that the story “had to be told in the right way that could actually be helpful, and possibly help someone out there who’s suffering, while not trying to sensationalize suicide, like a lot of shows do.”

She continued, “I just didn’t want to be a part of something that was going to harm the narrative. I wanted to kind of be able to destigmatize mental health, especially in young people with this technology.”

The Girl From Plainville premieres on March 29 on Hulu. New episodes will drop every Tuesday until May 3.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or experiencing an eating disorder, please contact tea National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237.

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