From teen dramas starring 30-somethings as high school students to women giving birth in less time than it takes to drink a latte, there are plenty of times TV shows have needed a reality check. But sometimes, they really get it right, especially when it comes to mental health lately. Honest depictions not only help take away stigma, but they also fill the audience in on what it’s really like to have a mental illness. Lately, there’s been a surge in shows depicting characters with disorders like OCD, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. While they don’t always nail it, some series have been careful and responsible about it. These seven shows offer a smart, sensible look into mental illness.
Despite having “crazy” in its title, the loveable musical dramedy has nailed portraying mental health issues with heart and honesty. After all, how many shows can get away with singing punchy songs about anxiety and depression? In “You Stupid Bitch, ”Rebecca Bunch, portrayed by Rachel Bloom, sang about her lowest moments of depression. Bloom, who is open about suffering from depression, says the tune rang true because it’s how she feels about herself when she’s feeling low. And we can’t forget about the tongue-in-cheek “Sexy French Depression,” which pokes fun at how we can romanticize the condition.
CIA officer Carrie (Claire Danes) outsmarts terrorists and saves the country time and time again, all while battling bipolar disorder. Over time, as the show progresses, we witness Carrie dealing with every aspect of her condition, from fights with her family when she goes off her meds to psychotic episodes to the emotional and career highs she experiences when her mental health is under her control. Homeland never shies away from showing the nitty gritty, and it illustrates the reality of how much bipolar disorder effects every aspect of Carrie’s life, including motherhood, her love life, and her job. Danes has won accolades for portraying such a complex character with nuance.
Hannah, played by Lena Dunham, develops OCD from the stress of writing her book. Who can forget that Q-tip scene in Season 2? That episode portrayed the disorder with brutal honesty, and that can probably be attributed to the fact that Dunham struggles with OCD herself. In fact, most of that season centered on Hannah’s mental health. For the most part, experts approved of the portrayal, since OCD can in fact get worse under stress.
She may be a superhero, but Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) also fights Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She suffers from flashbacks and struggles with intimacy as a result of being raped, and the show doesn’t sugarcoat the devastating effects the trauma has had on her. It portrays a woman who doesn’t always use the best methods to cope, but that’s what makes her real. In fact, Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg has told the Los Angeles Times that she wanted to make the portrayal of PTSD as realistic as possible, without glossing anything over, saying, “With rape, I think we all know what that looks like. We’ve seen plenty of it on television and I didn’t have any need to see it, but I wanted to experience the damage that it does. I wanted the audience to really viscerally feel the scars that it leaves. It was not important to me, on any level, to actually see it. TV has plenty of that, way too often, used as titillation, which is horrifying.”
The NBC favorite is famous for hitting a nerve with its devoted audience, and that’s because it’s known for keeping it real. At the end of the first season, Randall (Sterling K. Brown) has a panic attack during a play, and depicts exactly how overwhelming and scary anxiety can be. Details like blurred vision showed the audience what it’s like to experience a panic attack. In season two, his anxiety continued as he worried about being a strong enough parent to adopt a child.
Co-created by Tina Fey, the show is so hilarious that it’s easy to forget that it deals with serious, hard-hitting issues. After spending 15 years held captive in a bunker, Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) has PTSD as a result of the kidnapping and sexual abuse. And while the premise isn’t exactly your average mental health patient, what’s so real about it is that Kimmy appears to be happy, well-adjusted and high functioning—but secretly crumbling on the inside, just like many women who suffer from mental illness.
This Netflix hit not only shows what it’s like for women to live with a variety of mental illnesses, but the effect that being incarcerated has on them, too. For example, Suzanne, nicknamed Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba), clearly has severe mental issues, which affect her fellow inmates too, but the prison doesn’t provide the psychological care she needs. Mental health issues like suicide, drug abuse, PTSD, depression, and paranoia, among others, are front and center throughout the series. Orange is the New Black shows the stigma of mental illness, and how it can completely change the direction of your life.
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