6 TV Shows That Positively Depict What It’s Like To Live With A Mental Illness
When it comes to portraying mental illness, these shows are both tender and candid
When you’re struggling with a mental illness, it’s a frustrating thought when all the portrayals you see of yourself on television are limited, harmful, or just flat out inaccurate. Finding shows that positively depict what it’s like to live with a mental illness isn’t always easy but as we head into a brighter and more exciting era for television, we’ve come across a few good ones along the way. And this is quite important for everyone, to understand one's self, and others.
You see, when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in January of 2018, it felt like everything fell into place. The words that made up my diagnosis—“major depressive disorder” and “general anxiety disorder”—were liberating rather than alarming. Instead of fearing them, I felt comforted. It had all made sense—I’d been living with its symptoms for as long as I can remember, and having a mental health professional explain why I felt a certain why or why I did certain things was a moment of validation. Most of all, the words allowed me to begin healing.
I have loved television my whole life, and finding pieces and parts of me represented on my medium of choice is always a consoling and reassuring feeling. It’s as though someone’s out there calling to me and telling me, “Yes, you do exist.” Whether it’s one’s heritage, sexuality, or even mental illness, seeing oneself reflected in media is a powerful moment. When it comes to one’s mental health, though, the dangers of bad representation is more concerning. Northwestern Medicine admits that most depictions of mental health in the media “have an alarmingly poor grasp on what it really means to have a mental illness,” and that they tend to “perpetuate harmful stereotypes that feed the stigmas attached to it.”
So that's why finding these shows that give a semblance of the realities that one goes through with mental issues is quite a feat. Here are six, currently running, and binge-worthy television shows that handle the topic of mental health with deftness, nuance, and heart.
One Day at a Time
The last time we wrote about One Day at a Time, it had been cancelled by Netflix. As of today, it’s back for a fourth season with Pop TV, set to come out next year, and thank goodness for that, as it’s one of the few shows that nails (almost) everything it tackles. From racism, to sexuality, to depression, One Day at a Time approaches each issue with a whole lot of heart and nuance. When it comes to the portrayal of mental illness, the show’s defining episode is “Hello, Penelope,” a latter-season ouevre about the realities of living with depression: The back-and-forth of taking your medication and stopping it, going to therapy and doing away with it, the hour-long naps, the feeling of inadequacy because everyone else can function without taking antidepressants, why can’t you? One Day at a Time normalizes depression in a way that we've never seen on TV before, and we cannot thank it enough.
One Day at a Time can be streamed on Netflix.
This animated dramedy about a bygone humanoid horse actor (voiced by Will Arnett) is a crowd favorite among television critics as it tackles everything from the consequences of its titular character’s depression to the absurdity and realities of life presented in an equally absurd and real way. A 2017 Bustle piece has lauded its portrayal of depression, saying that BoJack Horseman depicts the mental illness “more honestly than any show on TV,” as “it avoids easy answers or false epiphanies; instead, its realistic portrayal of depression has the power to make sufferers — and the people who love them — feel seen.” Any person I meet who loves BoJack Horseman always has to take a very, very, very deep breath before proceeding to talk about it, and if that doesn’t speak multitudes about its impact, then I don’t know what does.
BoJack Horseman can be streamed on Netflix. Its sixth and final season comes out on October 25.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—yes, that CW musical where Lea Salonga had guested on as Aunt Myrna—is about Rebecca Bunch (played by Rachel Bloom), a lawyer who moves from New York to West Covina, California in search of happiness. Beyond the exaggerated spectacle of the show’s musical numbers, it delves into something deeper: Rebecca’s borderline personality disorder. She’s not just depressed, or anxious, or obsessive-compulsive. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of the few shows that have a character diagnosed with BPD, and it is, by far, the best show to handle it. With a skillful writer’s room, showrunner, and creator, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend treats mental illness compassionately and lovingly. Rebecca is never portrayed as crazy, despite what the title might tell you, and she’s neither a victim nor a villain. She, plainly and simply, is Rebecca Bunch.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend can be streamed on Netflix.
You’re The Worst
It’s not obvious at first, but You’re the Worst is one of the best television romcoms of the decade, and it’s somehow managed to fly past everyone’s radar. It follows two absolutely crass and decidedly awful people, Gretchen (played by Aya Cash) and Jimmy (played by Chris Geere), and the relationship—and life—that they forge together. At the show’s core, however, is the character’s debilitating mental illness, and the behavior and consequences brought on by that mental illness. “The only thing I need from you is to not make a big deal of it, and be okay with how I am and the fact that you can’t fix me,” Gretchen tells Jimmy after he learns about her clinical depression. Their friend, Edgar, suffers from PTSD after serving in the military. Rachel Syme compares it to BoJack Horseman, and it’s spot-on. It’s “the best show we have about depression,” she writes for The New Republic, as the gang grapple with “the demons that so many do.”
You’re The Worst can be streamed on Hulu.
In Lady Dynamite, stand-up comedian Maria Bamford stars as a fictionalized version of herself after spending six months in recovery for bipolar disorder, with the short-lived comedy chronicling her return to everyday life with the most vigorous and almost aggressive kind of positivity that’s impossible to miss—and impossible to see often on television. The show is critically-acclaimed and well-beloved, and every time Maria screams into a pillow or a sponge or whatever the nearest object that can be grabbed is, I feel myself so deeply represented, it’s dynamite.
Lady Dynamite can be streamed on Netflix.
Though not necessarily about mental illness as a whole, black-ish has tackled the topic of postpartum depression by way of its matriarch, Rainbow Johnson (played by Tracee Ellis Ross). After giving birth to baby DeVante, Bow is afflicted with postpartum depression—an illness that affects 70 to 80 percent of women in the United States alone (in 2004, there was a reported 126,826 estimated cases of postpartum depression in the Philippines). “We have this great character, a strong, great mom, a successful doctor,” executive producer Corey Nickerson told Variety. “Why don’t we try to show women that it’s OK to be dealing with something like this and still be good moms?” And so they did. In the end, the storyline garnered much praise from television critics, fans, and parenting magazines.
black-ish can be streamed on Amazon Prime.