Sarah Connor, a Nondelusional Minority

Sarah Connor, a Nondelusional Minority

This is the first in a series of brief monthly articles examining and relating imaginary fictional or historical figures to issues pertinent to us from a psychiatric perspective. The character of this article is Sarah Connor, of the Terminator film series.

image of Sarah Connor

Name: Sarah Connor
Born: 1965
First Appearance: The Terminator

Analyzing Sarah Connor

Through the six Terminator movies, along with the TV series, the Sarah Connor Chronicles, her stories unfold. I say stories, because due the time travel inherent to this series of stories, there are variations of her story between some of the movies. Different pasts beget different futures, and differing futures mandate different pasts.

However, the essence of Sarah Connor is that, as a young single woman in late 20th century Los Angeles, she is hunted by machines – Terminators – because time reveals that her son helps save the human race in a war between humans and machines; the machines send the terminators back to the past in an effort to eliminate Sarah and her son John, to prevent the humans of the future being victorious.

An interesting element of the story is that Sarah Connor does not actually display much by way of mental health issues, because her thinking is quite reality based. While her claims of being pursued by futuristic “killer robots” are dismissed as signs of mental illness, she is in fact being hunted by terminators sent from the future to kill her. However, she eventually ends up institutionalized in a State mental hospital, ostensibly for being delusional.

Although the Terminator stories are fictional, her situation is an outstanding example of what has become known as The Martha Mitchell Effect. This phenomenon was described by psychologist Brendan Maher, who named the effect after Martha Mitchell. 

Mrs. Mitchell was the wife of John Mitchell, the United States Attorney General during the Nixon Administration. She claimed that White House personnel were engaged in illegal activities. However, her claims were not believed, and were attributed to mental illness. The reality of the Watergate Scandal vindicated Martha Mitchell.

It is of note that just as Sarah Connor was involuntarily retained while being mentally healthy, albeit privy to incredible information few others had, there was an experiment conducted by psychologist David Rosenhan wherein “fake” psychiatric patients initially pretending to be actual psychiatric patients were involuntarily retained in psychiatric hospitals even though after admission, they no longer endorsed having psychiatric symptoms and acted normally. In fact, the average length of stay was 19 days, all patients were diagnosed as having schizophrenia, and required to take antipsychotic medication.

Having the same thing happen to Sarah Connor complicated her survival and the protection of her son, John. 

Undeterred, Sarah continued to survive, struggle, fight, love, and grieve, though in the end, she  wearily says, “Let someone else play Mother Mary for a while,” – a reference to Jesus’ mother, mother to the Savior of the World. 


Sarah Connor does not, in fact, have a mental illness. However, because the mental health professionals diagnosing her lacked the proper context to lend credibility to her claims (as the Cyberdyne Corporation had concealed all of the physical evidence of the terminator), and because of the severe trauma she experienced during the events of the first firm and the associated changes in her behavior, dememour, and world view, she was nonetheless sent to an institution. This is no different from the citation encountered by Martha Mitchell in the real world.

As a psychiatrist, the situation that Sarah Connor and Martha Mitchell endured should be a clarion call to mental health professionals that we must be cautious in making our diagnoses and consider all factors of a person’s life and situation when analyzing a patient and determining whether they are afflicted with a particular mental illness. 



While these articles will be discussing mental health issues and diagnoses, the subjects of this article series are either fictional characters or historical figures and these articles are for entertainment purposes only. If you believe you or a loved one is impacted by a mental health condition, please make an appointment with a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.

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