Mental Illness in: TV

Lying awake the other night I began to think about how mental health is represented in the entertainment industry and how I am attracted to shows, books and movies if they show mental health. So I have decided to do a three part series listing the books, movies and tv shows I know that have shown mental health in some form. The first part will be tv shows the second will be movies and the third part will be books.

Today also happens to be R U OK day which is day that encourages people to ask their friends how they really are going and listen to them. So it seemed fitting to post this post today.

Mental health is rarely shown in depth on tv or in movies, I think because there is a lot of conflict surrounding it and its hard to portray in a positive light. Eating disorders are shown more often than any other type of mental disorder as you can see the effects of it physically and its an issue that won't cause a lot of conflict when they show it as it has been done before.

Glee - Glee has covered eating disorders (Quinn and Mercedes both struggled with peer pressure to be thin thanks to Sue Sylvester) and a suicide attempt. Though neither were done in major detail you could see the affects it had not only on the main character struggling with it but the rest of the cast.

Suits - This is a more recent show that has shown mental health and it was extremely unexpected! Harvey Spector has been struggling with panic attacks due to his secretary Donna leaving him which has brought back past memories of when his mother left him. He has been seeing a phycologist and you get to see how he struggles with coming to terms having a weakness and needing help.

Red Band Society - One of the main characters Emma struggles with an eating disorder and has been hospitalised for it. It isn't mentioned much at the start apart from that you know that is why she is in hospital but eventually you get to see the mental struggle and how it began later on in the series.

The Fosters - Sophia, Callies half sister is diagnosed with bipolar disorder in season 2 and you get to see how she struggles with talking about it and realising that this is an ongoing thing.

Open Heart - Mental health plays a big role in this show though none of the main characters have it. Dylan's father has gone missing unexpectedly but it turns out that he has bipolar disorder and that could be one of the reasons why he is missing. You get to see Dylan come to terms with that and question all his weird quirks, along with her sister who begins to question if she may also have it after realising that its genetic. It's great as it shows how mental illness can be hidden so well that sometimes someone you think you know well could be struggling with it.

Degrassi: The Next Generation - Hands down the best show that portrays mental illness flawlessly. You get to see how mental illness affects everyone along with the character struggling with it. the following characters have struggled with mental illness:
  • Craig - bipolar disorder - we are lead to believe that this is genetic as his father also suffers with it. Craig has to come to terms with the fact that its not an easy fix and he will also have it.
  • Ellie - Self harm- Ellie's home life isn't the best which leads to her cutting herself as a way of escape, she eventually overcomes it but realises that she will always struggle with the urge to cut. She also helps Craig when he is diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
  • Darcy - suicide attempt - Darcy gets raped as a result of her drink being spiked and feels like the only way out of this situation is to kill herself, thankfully Manny comes to the rescue just in times and encourages her to get help.
  • Emma - eating disorder - Emma decides to go on an extreme diet with Manny to help Manny loose weight before a meeting with a TV producer, of course Emma decides to take it to the extreme and develops an eating disorder (which she eventually recovers from after an intervention from Manny and her parents).
  • Paige - panic attacks - Paige ends up putting herself in extreme stress which causes the attacks and she has to learn how to overcome them. 
  • Eli - bipolar disorder - This is an ongoing struggle for Eli and we first get to see the signs with his obsessive nature which eventually leads to him breaking down having to receive inpatient treatment. Over various episodes we see how Eli struggles with proving to himself and his friends (who are worried after the breakdown and his destructive behaviour) that having bipolar doesn't change anything rather makes him who he is.
  • Campbell - suicide - this was a major game changer for Degrassi and the episode was months in the planning. The producers met with various mental health professionals to work out a way to carry it out and show people the long term effects it can when someone kills themselves. Campbell decides to kill himself after the pressure people put on him begins to great and he can't see any other way to escape it all. The episodes leading up to it start to show Campbell falling apart and struggling with himself, the main episode is where is happens is done really well and you get to see the effect it has on the whole school. It is shown in a negative light through Campbell's girlfriend Maya who voices that she thinks that is selfish what he did. Through later episodes you get to see how it affects Maya long term.
  • Maya - anxiety - as a result of Campbell killing himself Maya begins to obsess over Miles when he becomes withdrawn and starts having panic attacks due to imagining that Miles has killed himself. Eventually Maya sees a psychologist to help with the long term effects of Campbell's death and realises not to always expect the worst.
These are just the main characters who have struggled with mental health this doesn't include Adam who struggles with beings transgender and the many other LGBT characters (Marco, Tristan, Fiona, Imogen the list goes on!). The girls who have been sexually assaulted (Zoe, Paige and Darcy). The school shooting that happens which has a domino affect on so many of the characters and lands Jimmy Brooks in a wheelchair. Teen pregnancies (Jenna, Liberty and Claire), cancer diagnosis's (Spinner and Claire), accidental deaths (JT due to a stabbing and Adam because of a car crash). Degrassi has covered all the hard topics and knows how to do it well and in a realistic way, they don't glamourise anything and will often re bring up the topics during much later episodes a great example of that is with Maya and how Campbell killing himself has made such a lasting effect on her and has in turn caused her to have anxiety. If you want to see mental health issues portrayed right on TV watch Degrassi and you will be amazed with how well they can do it.

***updated to add the following***
Lost and Found Music Studios - This was very unexpected and I thought how it was approached and covered was done really well (spoilers coming). When we first meet Clara we think she is just a perfectionist and having some stage fright issues but as season 1 goes on we see something more going on under the surface. It's not until season 2 it really goes into detail and we see Clara have this battle going on inside her, she wants to be accepted and is willing to do anything which means putting her mental health on the line. Just when we think she has found herself she has a breakdown in the form of a panic attack and its shown really accurately and John comes to her rescue. This was another surprise as though we knew early on that John's mother was dead we didn't know how and it comes to the surface that she killed herself and John has struggled with accepting it and wondering if he did something to cause it. We also see him go through shame and realising that what she did was wrong and not acceptable. So for John to find and help Clara makes a lot of sense and we get to see both sides of mental illness struggle. Clara eventually gets the help she needs from her parents and its decided that she needs to seek inpatient treatment and they really drive home the point that its nothing to be ashamed about and it's a good thing she is getting help. I am hoping for a season 3 so we get to see Clara's recovery and how people react to it. (Did you know that the actress who plays Clara played a young Donna in Suits which is why she may look familiar!).

Degrassi Next Class - While I could've included this with Degrassi: Next Generation I felt that as its technically another series (or at least spin off) it deserved to be added separately. In the 3 seasons of the show a lot of Mental Illness (and surround issues) has been covered which is a huge achievement! The following characters have struggled with Mental Illness either directly or indirectly:
  • Miles - anxiety - we were first introduced to Miles in Degrassi; Next Gen and we see just how much pressure his dad puts on him along with abuse and how his life is under the microscope which causes him to feel trapped. As the season starts we see him really start to loose it and how his anxiety is trying to take over his whole life which means he questions everything and pushes away the people who have stood by him through it all. Thankfully he eventually realises he needs help and in season 2 he gets the help he needs which isn't without some struggles.
  • Hunter - depression - Mile's younger brother has depression which causes him to go off the rails, lash out and eventually take a gun to a school dance. He eventually gets admitted into inpatient treatment and receives the treatment he needs but he has concerns that he will go off the rails again and distances himself from his loved ones. We are slowly seeing that he is coming to terms with what it means to have a mental illness and how Mile's is helping him accept it.
  • Esme - mum's suicide and anxiety - Esme is the one who offers Mile's pills to help him with his anxiety (before he gets professional help) so while its not confirmed we assume she struggles with anxiety. We later learn at the end of season 3 that her mum killed herself (and she was the one that found the body) which could be linked to the anxiety she struggles with. We see Esme have unpredictable behaviour and push people away, though she does help Maya when she needs it.
  • Maya - anxiety, PTSD and depression - poor Maya just can't get a break! We see Maya struggle with anxiety linked back to Campbell, depression and PTSD linked to the bus crash in season 2. After the bus crash she becomes obsessed with death and the trauma surrounding it, she also goes back to when Campbell killed himself and how it seems like death surrounds her. In the final episodes of season 3 she looses it and attempts suicide herself, thankfully Esme is there and having seen it firsthand is able to get Maya to the hospital she doesn't succeed with it. Season 4 will no doubt show her coming to terms with it and getting the treatment she needs.
Once again Degrassi shows mental illness in a realistic light, while also showing its acceptable to get treatment and its ok to be not ok. Bring on season 4 (and 5 and 6) and what other mental health challenges they will cover. ***If you want a full (though brief) list of every character that has ever suffered a mental illness on Degrassi: Next Gen and Next Class click here its actually impressive just how many they have covered.

13 Reasons Why - I am super hesitant to put this on the list as it really doesn't show mental illness rather just suicide and what lead her to do it. I haven't watched the series but I have read the book and just didn't find it that realistic at all and it was just her blaming people who made her kill herself. I will probably watch the series but haven't gotten round to it yet so maybe my views will change but after reading articles online I will surprised if it does. But I am including it along with a note saying that suicide is never the answer and that there is help available, no one should ever feel like Hannah and I hope that if you do that you tell someone rather than to just end it.
The above are just the TV shows that I know of that have shown/covered mental illness at some point. Hopefully in the future more shows will approach it and help show people that it is more common than we are lead to believe. It would be nice to be able to watch TV and relate to the charcters that are struggling with mental illness not

Coming up next in the series is movies.


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