The author and narrator. A doctor diagnoses Kaysen with borderline personality disorder in 1967, when she is 17. The previous year, Kaysen attempted suicide by swallowing fifty aspirin. She voluntarily commits herself to McLean Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Belmont, Massachusetts. Over the next two years, Kaysen confronts her illness, experiences profound unhappiness, as well as the treachery and kindness of peers and authority figures, and finally meets the future that awaits her outside the confining but protective walls of the ward.
Kaysen's fellow patient and the effective leader of the girls on the ward. Lisa is proud of her diagnosis as a sociopath, a personality driven by self-interest. Lisa is wildly unpredictable. She throws tantrums and plans escapes for others when she isn't making her own attempts to escape. Kaysen is initially in awe of Lisa's apparent confidence. Over time, though, she learns that Lisa cares little for the consequences of her actions and can be willfully cruel.
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Kaysen’s roommate at McLean Hospital. Georgina suffers from depression and is a kind and constant companion to Kaysen. Georgina has a romantic relationship with Wade, a violent and unpredictable patient on another ward.
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A disfigured patient. Before entering McLean, Polly poured gasoline over her face and upper body and set herself aflame. Polly appears to be at peace, even cheerful, during her first year at the hospital. One day, Polly suddenly becomes aware of the awful extent of her injuries. She is inconsolable. Kaysen notes that although everyone at McLean is affected by sickness, Polly is the only patient trapped forever by the consequences of her illness.
A patient who spends the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas at the hospital each year. Daisy lets no one into her room, emerging only for laxatives and the whole roast chickens her father brings twice weekly. Lisa discovers that Daisy’s room is filled with the picked-over carcasses of the chickens. Daisy leaves the hospital to live in an apartment her father has purchased for her. The girls later learn that Daisy committed suicide on her birthday.
A severe depressive on Kaysen’s ward. Cynthia undergoes months of electroshock therapy. The effects of the shock treatments change Cynthia’s personality, leaving her totally unable to assert herself. Cynthia is close to Polly.
Georgina’s boyfriend and a patient at McLean hospital. Wade is prone to violent outbursts, requiring several orderlies to subdue him. Wade fascinates the girls with stories of his father’s exploits as a CIA agent, including his associations with notorious figures from the Watergate scandal. Wade’s fits of uncontrollable rage ultimately land him in the maximum-security ward.
A patient who becomes fast friends with Lisa, only to be cruelly rejected. Diagnosed, like Lisa, as a sociopath, Lisa Cody emulates Lisa’s behavior. Feeling that her position among the girls is threatened, Lisa turns against her, and Lisa Cody leaves the hospital. Returning from an escape to Boston one day, Lisa tells the other girls that Lisa Cody has become a “real” junkie.
A methamphetamine-addicted patient from Mexico. Torrey’s parents, embarrassed by their daughter’s condition, arrive to retrieve her after a short time. Lisa plans to help Torrey escape, but Valerie halts Lisa’s plan.
A troubled patient who pronounces her last name “callous.” Alice’s mental breakdown results in her transfer to the maximum-security ward. Alice’s appearance and the frightening atmosphere of the ward appall the girls when they visit.
The head nurse on Kaysen’s ward. The girls like and respect Valerie for her fairness and willingness to speak up on their behalf.
Kaysen’s therapist. Impressed by Kaysen’s intelligence, Melvin begins an advanced program of analysis with her. Kaysen finds the experience unconvincing and discovers that she was Melvin’s first analysis patient.
The evening nurse on Kaysen’s ward. Mrs. McWeeney hails from the old school. Her old-fashioned uniform and values alienate the girls.
An older female psychiatrist on the hospital staff. Dr. Wick is from Africa and is entirely unfamiliar with the American youth culture of her patients. Vulgarity and frank discussion of sex embarrass Dr. Wick, whose efforts at treatment are not necessarily effective.
Nobel Prize–winning friend of Kaysen’s family. Beloved by Kaysen for his unpredictable behavior, he visits Kaysen and offers to help her escape. She turns him down in the belief that she should continue treatment.
Introduced to Kaysen prior to her hospitalization, he stays in touch with her throughout her time at McLean. His marriage proposal allows Kaysen to leave the hospital. They are married only a short time.
Kaysen’s high school teacher and lover. He takes her to the Frick Museum in New York, where she first sees the Vermeer painting titled Girl, Interrupted at Her Music. Their affair is short-lived.
The psychiatrist who encourages Kaysen to enter McLean Hospital. He diagnoses her in a mere twenty minutes. Kaysen believes that his swift diagnosis expresses the psychiatrist’s misguided effort to save her from the wayward youth culture he disdains and cannot understand.