Proud2Bme | 5 TV Shows That Get Mental Illness Right

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5 TV Shows That Get Mental Illness Right

By Dana Land--Watching movies or television shows can be a great way to unwind after a long day. Friends can bond over their favorite characters and introduce each other to new shows and genres. The entertainment industry is always looking for the next hot, edgy sell, and mental illness seems to be their new focus.

With this focus on mental illness comes plenty of controversial portrayals. For example, look at the movie Silver Linings Playbook. Many in the mental illness community were happy to be mentioned and represented in a movie, but others were frustrated with the one-sided portrayal of the bipolar character. The character’s mental illness is shown only through violent outbursts. And in the end, the character living with bipolar disorder and the character living with depression live happily ever after. A lot of people found this depiction to be upsetting and inaccurate.

So, how do we find entertainment that accurately represents the mentally ill community? Below is a list of five television shows that got it right:

1. Jessica Jones

If superheroes are your thing, Jessica Jones is for you. Jessica is working as a private detective. She is snarky and rude, and she lives in a relatively empty home. You might think she is just an unhappy character. What you come to find out is she is suffering from severe PTSD. This show displays her doing her best to live with her PTSD, the occurrence of flashbacks and avoidance, and how your social circle may be influenced by your mental illness.

In the end, after she’s done so much work to confront the source of her PTSD, we don’t get the happy ending that many shows conclude with. The show knows that PTSD doesn’t magically go away. Jessica Jones is shown as being a strong character who can manage and live a fulfilling life with her PTSD. She has worked on mending relationships and understanding herself. She is a true hero.

2. Wilfred

Wilfred is considered a dark comedy. At first glance, if you take the plot literally, you may think that the show is mocking depression: A depressed man makes an attempt to take his life, then he begins seeing his neighbor’s dog as a human in a dog costume. That sounds ridiculous!

However, they do a great job of portraying a different side of depression. We’ve all seen the person lying in bed and crying. This is a very real side of depression. However, many people assume that if you’re not unable to function, you must not be depressed. Some say the dog, Wilfred, is a manifestation of the puzzling nature of the main character’s depression and oftentimes a coping mechanism for him. For those living with depression, it is not always clear-cut. Oftentimes we may not understand exactly what is happening ourselves, yet still have to navigate the world the best we know how. This is exactly what the main character, Ryan, must do.

3. Scream

This is another television show in which you may not immediately notice the mental illness portrayals. Scream is the television version of the original horror movie. The plot and characters are different, but the theme is the same. A masked killer is stalking a group of teens. However, the underlying theme here is that no one is as happy and perfect as they seem to be on social media.

Each person is dealing with their own real world problems. The rich girl who everyone envies feels isolated from her family. The misunderstood teen who is teased for “having no friends” in reality has very close and loving friends. The main character, Emma, does her best to save her friends from the killer. The killer taunts her and blames her by forcing her to make choices that may or may not put her friends at risk and ultimately kill them.

Emma feels guilty for all of the crimes and is traumatized from witnessing the events. She spends some time in the hospital before returning. And after the events of the first season close, she once again takes time away to care for herself after her trauma. Just because the environmental stressor that triggered the mental illness is gone, the effects can be long-lasting and continuous self-care is essential. Scream does a great example of modeling that.

4. Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black has received much praise for its eclectic portrayal of women from all walks of life. There is LBGT+ representation, age range representation and racial representation. The show really dives into exploring why these women committed their crimes and how they work to redeem themselves. Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” is one of the characters in this show, and the show initially portrays her without background or depth, forcing you to judge her through a narrow lens—just as the other women in the prison do.

They say that she’s “crazy,” and as the show progresses, you see how the “Crazy Eyes” nickname hurts Suzanne, and that she does have depth, sensitivity, and unique talents and personality traits. She has a backstory like everyone else does, and she isn’t limited to her “crazy” behavior.

5. My Mad Fat Diary

Possibly the most effective and accurate portrayal of mental illness comes from the show My Mad Fat Diary. The story begins with the main character, Rae, leaving a mental health facility after making an attempt on her life. Her friends do not know where she has been or about the body image issues she experiences.

The biggest breath of fresh air is that it gives representation to those with eating disorders who do not fit stereotypical image of eating disorders. The show deals with anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm, depression and the whole spectrum of mental health. It even touches upon the confusion and uncertainty of leaving a mental health facility, and how some may feel the desire to go back to the safety that they found in the facility.

It can be difficult to find shows that portray mental illness with respect, sensitivity and empathy, but they are out there. Not all of these shows provide perfect portrayals, but they’re taking steps towards creating a more inclusive and welcoming world. One step at a time, they’re changing the conversation around mental illness.

Header image courtesy of Netflix/Marvel

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