Mental illness is one subject that can be over worked when it comes to television and movies. The article 6 Movies That Got Mental Illness Correct is a compilation of those films that we felt did the best job with mental illness. This article is a companion to the movie one with the hope being similar. Once again, artistic liberties will be overlooked and instead it will focus on the meat of the topic. As such, here are six television shows that got mental illness correct. And two that missed the mark entirely.
Mom, while filled with lighthearted banter and fantastic one liners, actually chronicles the life of Christy. Following her while she works out issues she has with her mother and addiction. Over the course of each season we see Christy, played by Anna Farris, deal with situations regarding her mother’s addiction as well as her own. In many episodes we see Christy in AA meetings. Some of which her mother attends as well. We learn that Christy’s mother Bonnie, played by Allison Janey, has a long list of addictions and time spent feeding them. We watch as both Christy and Bonnie fight through triggers of their addiction. Watching it all unfold in a realistic, if not campy, version of reality.
I toyed with not adding this to the list as there is some controversy surrounding addiction as a mental illness. In the end, the down to earth portrayals of the abandonment, betrayal, and depression that can come along with addiction won out. Christy has at least one other mental illness brought about from her addiction, as does her mother. They both exhibit symptoms of depression as well as anxiety which adds a good dose of humanity into what it otherwise a lively comedy.
Girls follows the lives of three women, plus supporting characters, as they navigate life and love in New York City. Hannah, played by Lena Dunham, is an aspiring writer and the main focus within the triad of women. She suffers from OCD with anxiety being an extreme comorbid factor. While the show can be grating at times and might not be for everyone it does sit squarely in its portrayal of mental illness. We see Hannah having issues controlling her rituals after breakups and the loss of jobs. Stress is a strong mitigating factor in how OCD symptoms can present and Girls shows the darker side of it all.
This is another selection that has a bit of controversy attached. Fans love the more humanistic approach to OCD and how it really did become bothersome to Hannah. Many applauded the fact that her symptoms, when she had them, weren’t strictly stereotypical in nature. Some professionals on the other hand, didn’t like that Hannah was essentially asymptomatic during her OCD “downtimes.” They stated she showed none of the smaller symptoms in between the larger episodes she had. While this may be the case, her character is a fan favorite. With many seeing themselves in her struggles with OCD.
Bojack Horseman is an animated series but that shouldn’t deter you from watching it. Especially if you’re looking for a good show to binge watch over the weekend. The premise of this particular piece is to have the viewer follow Bojack, a washed up 90s star, as he deals with depression and addiction. As addiction can be a side affect of depression this helps lend some credibility right off that bat. While the symptoms are solid, the most realistic aspect might be just how human Bojack’s struggles really are. The show has gained a cult following with many depression sufferers finding themselves in the character. Bojack appears to be an entity all his own while simultaneously feeling very familiar to so many others.
Degrassi has been around for over three decades and has had a few incarnation during that time. In Degrassi: The Next Generation we see abusive relationships, depression, PTSD, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts. In one particularly harrowing episode we watch as a character by the name of Darci grapples with PTSD from a rape. After the death of a beloved character we watch as the entire school deals with their grief and subsequent depression in various ways. One main character self-harms as a way to deal with her mother’s own mental illnesses and the absence of her father who is in the military. Nearly every episode deals with a mental illness from the perspective, mostly, of teens and young adults. Seeing the issues from a younger audience is a welcomed perspective. It is one that opens up lines of communication between everyday teens and their peers or parents.
Disclaimer: Dissociative identity disorder is rare, about 1% of the population has it.
This show is unique in the fact that we meet Tara, a housewife and artist who lives with seven personalities outside of her own. While that portrayal, and meeting each personality as its own person, seems over the top at times it is actually an interesting window into a family that is fractured from within. Tara “transitions” when she is stressed with each “alter” serving a specific purpose based on the circumstances surrounding the transition. This show highlights the impact on the family more than the impact on Tara. We see the trials through the eyes of her husband, children, and her sister. We see just how far reaching a mental illness can be and how each member of the family can develop their own illnesses because of the stress associated with such a harsh reality.
Shameless is a show based in Chicago that follows the Gallagher family as they try to rise above the poverty line. The show itself deals with a handful of hard hitting topics such as suicide and addiction but the mental illness focus sits mainly with two character’s struggles with bipolar disorder. We watch as each of the two characters go through periods of medication and denial of their symptoms. One character, Monica, goes down a lonely and tragic road while her son Ian slowly learns from his mother’s mistakes. Again we see how the family and those closest to them become collateral damage, emotionally, as the two struggle without medication.
The issue with Monk and the title character is that OCD is treated like a quirky plot point. Aside from the fact that he was touted as the “defective detective”, his symptoms are over the top and often times aren’t actually OCD symptoms at all. There are varying degrees of OCD of course, but this character seems to roll all of those options into one person. The fact that Monk’s symptoms are stereotypical forces the viewer to learn nothing about the lesser known aspects of OCD. Or how the sufferer manages through them. It places Monk in a Hollywood box and doesn’t allow for much room to breathe outside of the “aha” moments of clarity where huge personal growth happens in a single episode or two.
One wouldn’t expect the Disney Channel to touch on such a serious and important topic but they did. Though not very well overall. The concept of eating disorders comes up just once in the entirety of the show. Which, of course, is miraculously handled in the course of the 30-minute run time. One character, Miranda, decides that she is too “fat” for a dance class she is taking. This causes her to decide to invest her time in an eating disorder. Within the short episode we see Miranda struggle with her disorder. All while her friends swoop in and convince her to give it up in the end. There was no diagnosis, no actual side affects, and no parental involvement let alone medical intervention. This episode makes it look far too easy to overcome eating disorders. This can give those who suffer from them a false sense of reality.
This isn’t intended to be an all-inclusive guide to mental illnesses in television. It is merely a personal list of favorites and how they actually portray the realities of mental illness. Do you have a favorite that wasn’t on the list? Or perhaps you don’t agree with one of the selections above? Please leave those preferences in the comments section below.
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