The television industry is a constantly evolving landscape. More and more shows are being created all the time, and more aim to tackle the subject of mental illness.
However, despite trying to represent mental illness, many television shows don’t do an accurate job of portraying them. Nancy Mramor, a clinical psychologist who specialises in media, explained in an interview with Health that a lot of programs aim to make their shows interesting even when mental disorders sometimes aren’t. In turn, they make their representation inaccurate in an attempt to create shock value or drive home a plot point.
Luckily, it’s becoming more often that we see accurate portrayals of mental health and mental disorders. Even though a lot of the time these portrayals are played up to represent extreme cases, several shows have now actually done a pretty good job of capturing mental illness. So, if you’re looking for a show to watch that gets mental illness right, I have some recommendations for you to check out.
Condition: Bipolar Disorder & Alcoholism
One of my favourite shows on this list is definitely Shameless US as it’s so complex and has depth. Ian Gallagher, who is played by Cameron Monaghan, suffers from an extreme case of Bipolar Disorder and struggles with a lot of issues that real-sufferers find themselves dealing with. Ian goes through the motions of wanting to get better, but not wanting to be on medication. He also suffers from a number of suicide attempts, highs and lows, and hospitalisations. In one particularly powerful scene, he states;
“I am handicapped. It’s not my fault, I didn’t do anything to bring this on myself.”Ian Gallagher, Shameless (US)
The show also works to portray alcohol addiction, as the father, Frank Gallagher, portrayed by William H. Macy, suffers from being an alcoholic. Mramor notes that the show does well to show how children end up caring for themselves, while also showcasing that alcoholism can affect anybody.
Parks And Recreation
Parks And Rec is known for being a hilarious show full of interesting, well-developed characters and relationships. However, the show also depicts depression through the use of the overly happy character Chris Traeger, portrayed by Rob Lowe. Many sufferers have applauded the series for showcasing that depression doesn’t always look like somebody being ‘sad’.
Instead, the show does well to highlight the fact that depression can really affect anybody, regardless of personality. Many of us who suffer from depression will put on a facade so that people don’t notice. Having an upbeat, enthusiastic character suffer from depressive episodes just shows you how important it is not to believe that there’s a specific ‘look’ to any mental illness.
This Is Us
While This Is Us isn’t entirely focused around the mental illness, its character Randall, portrayed by Sterling K. Brown, suffers from anxiety. Randall has a perfectionist nature, which becomes obvious as season one progresses, and he experiences a high sense of anxiety as a result of it.
A notable scene that stood out to viewers regarding Randall’s anxiety was the scene where he has a panic attack. Dr. James Murrough, an assistant professor of psychiatry, explained that the representation of the panic disorder was ‘pretty accurate’ in an interview with Health Magazine.
“When you’re experiencing a panic attack, it can feel like you’re dying or losing your mind.”Dr. James Murrough, Assistant Professor Of Psychiatry And Neuroscience
Condition: Borderline Personality Disorder
Throughout seasons 1 and 2, the main character Rebecca Bunch, portrayed by Rachel Bloom, evidently suffers with her mental health, but she doesn’t receive a diagnosis until season 3. With the reveal that she suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, so many of her self-destructive tendencies begin to make sense. This portrayal of BPD is especially important considering that there are so many demonised misconceptions about the mental illness. It’s one that definitely doesn’t get put in the spotlight often.
As well as highlighting the maladaptive behaviours that people with BPD are prone to, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does well to indicate the emotional intensity that sufferers experience. Creators Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna also revealed that they did intensive research into the disorder to be able to portray is accurately and in a humanising way.
Condition: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
This is a series that I watched back to back one evening, and I can definitely say that Jessica Jones, who is played by Kristen Ritter, has a very evident experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The show represents just how much difficulty she has in dealing with the fact she was a victim of violence. It shows how she attempts to control real-world scenarios to avoid dealing with triggers or reminders of her trauma.
“She attempts to control situations in a world that has changed, become unfamiliar, in which she doesn’t know what is real or who to trust.”Ken Yeager, Psychologist
Particularly, I think the show does a good job of showcasing that anybody can be affected by the impacts of trauma and that everybody deals with it differently. For the character, her way of ‘managing’ her disorder was revolved around trying to suppress it using alcohol. This shows the coping mechanisms that are also often common with the sufferers of the illness.
There’s still a long way to go when it comes to mental illness representations in the media. However, these few shows have done a good job of portraying what it’s like to suffer from one disorder or another.
Do you enjoy any of these shows? Or are there any other series that you think do well to capture the reality of mental illness?