I’ve noticed that a lot of television shows lately have focused on some form of mental health issues, and it’s making TV a whole lot better.
If you’ve watched a decent amount of TV lately you probably noticed this trend, and if you haven’t then you’re about to read about it. The more I watch TV the more I notice that a lot of shows have, in some way, brought up how people handle mental health issues like depression or anxiety. Either they have a character who faces it on a weekly or semi-weekly basis or an episode dedicated to someone handling it and I think it’s about damn time.
For the longest time Hollywood treated mental health disorders as some scary, horrible thing. It was all about straight-jackets and asylums and people never really understood how varied mental health disorders could be. Mental health problems are more than just schizophrenia and psychotic disorders, and finally I feel like Hollywood is beginning to go past the tip of that iceberg.
But that’s just it, we’ve only begun to explore mental health awareness in the proper way. With all of the shows on TV only a small number of them have started to explore this important subject. But the few that have? They’ve done a great job.
As much as I love TV I don’t watch everything so I’ve asked my Hypable co-workers to share with me their shows and how any of them highlight mental health awareness. These are all such great examples of how a television show can bring up awareness not for the sake of entertainment but rather because it’s important to show the world how mental health actually affects our lives.
Jasper Jordan is a rare character in a post-apocalyptic work of fiction, because unlike most of his delinquent peers, he doesn’t have a near-superhuman ability to compartmentalise the traumas and keep fighting for his own and his friends’ survival.
Where characters like Clarke, Bellamy, Monty and even Murphy get knocked down and get right back up again, Jasper isn’t able to do that. The ground was already well on its way to breaking him before he experienced the horrors of Mount Weather, and despite surviving it all, he hasn’t emerged stronger — his mind is giving out, and Jasper has no desire left to carry on. His self-destructive depression and suicidal tendencies were on full display in the season 3 finale, and although the writers decided to let him live (the original plan was for him to kill himself), his trauma hasn’t magically disappeared.
Jasper is a broken soul in an unforgiving world, and his pain is going to continue to define his character from here on out. –Selina Wilken
Every character on Bojack Horseman suffers from depression, and they all deal with it in different ways. Bojack is cruel and listless and blames everyone else for his problems, Mr.Peanutbutter hides his pain behind a smile and an upbeat personality.
Princess Carolyn loses herself in work and keeps her distance from other people emotionally to avoid being hurt again. Todd allows others to steer his life for him because he believes he’s too dumb and useless to make his own decisions. Every season hammers home why these characters behave the way that they behave, and it’s all wrapped up in a big metaphor about how we’re all just animals trying to survive. –Jimmy Bean
Probably one of the most evident and obvious shows that handle mental health, UnReal‘s main protagonist Rachel suffers from a lot of anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder. If you watch just season one and half of season 2 you may not understand Rachel’s actions or why she suffers from PTSD, but in season 2, episode 7 it all becomes clear. Unlike the other shows, UnReal provides a great example for how to not handle depression. The actions of the characters are so abundantly harmful and deceitful that it’s easy to hate the characters and what they’re doing.
It’s hard to discuss without spoilers, but it’s not hard to see how Rachel suffers from these mental health conditions. The poor woman is surrounded by people who try to help her by helping themselves, leaving her to handle her depression and anxiety alone, and it provides a clear picture on how not to support your friends. The best thing this show does is display how important it is to take a look at the people around you and make sure you’re keeping them there for the right reasons.
As morally corrupt as the show and its characters are, it’s a realistic portrayal of how harmful denying and not treating your depression and anxiety can be. –Tariq Kyle
Stiles anxiety has been threaded subtly through Teen Wolf, with just a few instances where it has made it to the forefront of the plot. In one case, Stiles has a panic attack when he’s learned his father has been taken in season 3. Since he lost his mother has a young child, his father is really the only family he has left. Stiles has always been overprotective of his dad — making sure he’s eating healthy and taking care of himself. When he has a panic attack, Lydia finds a way to calm him down, but she doesn’t try to cure him.
Stiles’ anxiety is as much a part of history as anything else, and it returns to enhance the plot of the show in season 5 when Stiles is worried about what will happen to his friendship with Scott after high school. It drives Stiles to attempt to keep everyone together, but when that all falls apart, he must confront his fears and accept that life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. By the time season 6A finishes up, Stiles has overcome this particular trigger, but again, that does not mean he’s been cured of his anxiety. Teen Wolf knows that a mental illness like anxiety is not something you just get over; it’s something you constantly have to work through. –Karen Rought
The biggest driving force in The Magicians actually isn’t magic, but rather depression. It’s made all too clear in season 1 when Elliot explains to Quentin, “magic doesn’t come from talent, it comes from pain.” Author Lev Grossman has discussed this parallel several times, explaining that his own depression was the inspiration for the series.
Grossman explains, “when I was really struggling with depression, I would lie in bed every day, and I couldn’t get up. And I would watch people doing these normal things, going to their jobs and having their relationships, and I would think, I could never do that. And it felt like they were doing magic. And when I started to get better, and I started getting up, and I started doing all these normal things, I felt like I was a magician.”
And what’s particularly great about The Magicians is how each character handles their own depression and anxiety in their own way. Some, like Quentin, are sheepish and quiet about it. Others, like Elliot or Margo, put up a facade of strength and nonchalant-ness that they seldom put down for others. The show is incredibly unique in how it handles mental health, and it’s a great representation of how today’s adults are dealing with it in their own way. –Tariq Kyle
While scripted shows are improving leaps and bounds in their portrayals of mental illness, Survivor has always been happy to show real people overcoming real obstacles, including anxiety disorders and phobias that do not lend themselves to being marooned on an island for a month or more. This past season on Survivor brought us three very different, but inspiring storylines about people overcoming anxiety and such to do extremely well in a game that has overwhelmed some of its strongest participants.
David, who works as a TV writer when he’s not marooning himself on television, walked into the game looking like the type of person that is usually the first person voted off. He appeared weak, paranoid, and was afraid of nearly everything on the island (a scene in which he is scared to hold a stick bug stands out in my brain). As he grew comfortable with his surroundings, he managed to harness his weaknesses and use them in his own favor. He also bonded with another of our inspiring survivors, Ken.
Ken suffered from a stutter as a kid, and has social anxiety thanks to years of bullying and teasing. Ken not only learned to bond with David, but throughout the game managed to make friends and trusted allies despite his anxiety.
Last, but certainly never least is Hannah. Hannah, like David, walked onto the island looking like the type of person that gets voted off this show in the first few episodes. Her lowest point was definitely when she had an anxiety attack from just watching an immunity challenge in progress. She was sitting on the sidelines and suddenly started hyperventilating and her hands seized up. She went on to form solid alliances and maneuver her way into the final three.
Survivor allowed viewers to watch as these three unlikely people made their way through one of the toughest social experiments in play today. Their struggles are real and tough, and they’ve put themselves in circumstances most of us couldn’t dream of subjecting ourselves to, but each came out stronger, more assured in who they are, and aware that their anxiety does not define them. –Kristen Kranz
How do you feel depression and anxiety are being represented on TV?
Don’t forget, you’re not alone. Give a call to the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255) or text them by texting START to 741-741.