Mental Illness on Television

Posted on September 18, 2016 at 4:13 pm

Angelica Jade Bastién is one of my favorite critics, and her essays on film are always insightful and thought-provoking. For Vulture, she wrote about the increasingly sensitive and authentic portrayal of mental illness on television. And she calls out the still-too-frequent portrayal of mentally ill characters as serial killers, or quirky-but-wise, or even super-smart but flawed figures.

If you live with mental illness, a show like You’re the Worst is downright revelatory. During its first season, the FXX comedy introduced Edgar, a military veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. In its second season, the show revealed that its lead female character, Gretchen, has clinical depression. And in its third season, which premiered last week, Gretchen actively seeks treatment and begins seeing a therapist.

In a television landscape that often misunderstands and misrepresents mental illness, You’re the Worst isn’t alone. Thanks to shows like BoJack Horseman, Lady Dynamite, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, it’s now easier than ever to find moving portraits of mental illness on television — but on the whole, most shows still struggle with flawed, careless, and inaccurate depictions….By failing to offer a diagnosis, a show’s writers can cherry-pick a variety of symptoms, which ultimately creates a dishonest portrayal that hinges on plot needs. This often leads to confused characterization, or worse, an exploitative view of mental illness.

It does not have to be a serious drama to be true to the reality of mental illness. Bastién’s good examples include “You’re the Worst” and “Crazy-Ex Girlfriend.”

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Critics Disabilities and Different Abilities Television Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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