10 TV shows with portrayals of mental illness
By: Jay Moreno
Portrayals of mental illness in TV shows are starting to become more relatable to connect with audiences during a time when more aspire to break stigmas. While there are numerous fictional characters in TV shows that have given visibility towards mental illnesses, here are 10 that have been praised for their accuracy.
How mental illness shows among family members in ‘This Is Us’
Critically acclaimed NBC series ‘This Is Us’ revolves around the past and the present days of the Pearson family. One character Kate (played by Chrissy Metz) struggles with depression after the death of her father and blames herself for his death when he died in a fire trying to save her dog. Her depression and guilt also contribute to her struggles with obesity and complicated relationship with her mother Rebecca (Mandy Moore). Randall, Kate’s adoptive brother (Sterling K. Brown), struggles with anxiety, having panic attacks in some episodes. This shines a light on mental health issues among men and African-American men, the latter of which is considered less likely to seek mental health treatment, according to a study by Mental Health America. The upcoming sixth season will be the show’s last.
Some ‘Shameless’ family members have a mental illness and it shows
Showtime comedy-drama ‘Shameless’ has become one of the network’s highest-rated shows, spanning for 11 seasons. Centred around the poor chaotic Gallagher family and anyone who associates with them, some of the characters have battled their own mental illnesses. Patriarch Frank (William H. Macy) is an addict who has neglected his six kids, often spending his days drunk. Their estranged mother Monica (Chloe Bell) also struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder, to the extent of attempting suicide in front of her kids. As the show progresses, the third-oldest child Ian (Cameron Monaghan) inherits his mother’s bipolar disorder as he engages in erratic behavior. The series has connected with audiences who have experienced similar situations, though managing to find humor in their troubles. The first ten seasons are available for streaming on Netflix.
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Dealing with mental illness is a ‘Work in Progress’
In the semi-biographical ‘Work in Progress,’ main character Abby (Abby McEnany), a self-proclaimed “fat queer dyke” in her 40s currently going through a crisis. Since it seems like her life is in shambles at times, she also struggles with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and depression. McEnany, who is also the show’s creator, came up with the show’s concept as a comedic approach to her own life, having the same mental illnesses as her character. The comedy series is currently in its second season, airing Sunday nights on Showtime following ‘The L Word: Generation Q.’
Tackling mental health struggles ‘One Day at a Time’
Netflix original ‘One Day at a Time’ embarks on the life of a single mother and her Cuban-American family in Los Angeles. Matriarch of the family Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado), a U.S. Army veteran, struggles with PTSD. Episodes have tackled this case, including one where she has a nightmare of being back in Afghanistan. In one of the following episodes, she joins a support group consisting of other female veterans. Besides mental health issues, the show tackles other serious subjects Latinx Americans face, such as immigration and homophobia. Despite praise from critics and developing a fan following, the show was cancelled twice by Netflix and Pop TV in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
How a ‘Crazy-Ex Girlfriend’ role compares to the reality of its star
Musical-comedy ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ focuses on a girl’s journey when she moves to California in hopes to win back an ex-boyfriend. Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) goes through several obstacles throughout the series and is already on medications for anxiety and depression when the show begins. After her emotional state becomes concerning in the third season, she is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and takes care of herself mentally. In the show, the topic of mental health manages to find a balance between seriousness and humor through musical numbers, with songs such as “Antidepressants Are So Not a Big Deal.” Bloom, who is also one of the show’s creators, has opened up about her own struggles with OCD, bipolar disorder and depression. The series concluded after four seasons in 2019, though is available to stream on Netflix.
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Multiple personalities living in the ‘United States of Tara’ – One of the best mental illness shows
The topic of people living with various personalities is not often shown in fiction, though ‘United States of Tara’ gives transparency on the matter. Title character Tara (Toni Collette) lives with DID (dissociative identity disorder), though commonly referred to as “multiple personality disorder.” Throughout the show’s three seasons, various personalities are introduced. Some of these personalities consist of “Buck,” a male Vietnam veteran, “Alice,” a 1950s housewife and “Bryce Craine,” who is a reflection of her sexually abusive younger brother that may have been a factor in her mental illness. The comedy-drama also shows how Tara’s disorder affects her husband and children. The show concluded in 2011 after three seasons and is available for streaming on Showtime Anytime.
‘Black-ish’ relating to the struggles of postpartum depression
The topic of post-partum depression was a highlight in the hit ABC comedy ‘Black-ish.’ Johnson’s family matriarch Rainbow “Bow” (Tracee Ellis Ross) gives birth to her fifth child at the beginning of the fourth season, developing post-partum depression shortly afterwards. She managed to get through it with the help of her husband and receives medication for the matter. Despite the storyline only lasting one episode, it portrayed a common struggle many women go through the following pregnancy. All seasons of the show are available for streaming on Hulu, while its upcoming eighth season will be its last.
A struggle with mental illness shows in ‘Jessica Jones’
Marvel series ‘Jessica Jones’ follows the life of the title character running her own detective agency. Previously, Jones (Krysten Ritter) was under the control of supervillain Kilgrave (also known as “The Purple Man”), being a factor in her PTSD battle. The show was praised for its accurate representation of PTSD and other traumatic events such as abuse and sexual assault. The show’s three seasons are available to watch on Netflix, being an original series for the popular streaming service. The actress reprised her role in its sequel series ‘Luke Cage,’ also on Netflix.
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Mental health issues in ‘You’re the Worst’
FX and FXX original ‘You’re the Worst’ tackles a couple of mental health topics. Gretchen (Aya Kash) struggles with clinical depression, though typically hides it and doesn’t take treatment seriously. The lack of one’s seriousness towards their mental health is common in reality, as many often go into denial. Supporting character Edgar (Desmin Borges) plays a U.S. Army veteran struggling with PTSD after serving in the Iraq War. Similar to ‘One Day at a Time,’ this shines a light on the seriousness and struggles of PTSD in military veterans. After four seasons, the series came to an end in April 2019.
“Orange Is the New Black” when it comes to prison wardrobe
Actress Uzo Aduba rose to fame in the hit Netflix show ‘Orange Is the New Black’, portraying Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren. While it’s unclear what exact mental illness Crazy Eyes has, she displays child-like behavior with possible abandonment issues. Her sensitive feelings are also clear, hurt over her common nickname. Her character may be an example of how court systems give people with mental health issues punishments rather than treatments. The show concluded after seven seasons in Aug. 2019 and remains Netflix’s longest-running original series.
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