When you think about depression and general mental illness shown on TV, you pretty much imagine a sad character sitting on a bus looking out the window listening to Adele (or something equally heartbreaking).
Or they’re looking across the ocean or standing looking into the beyond contemplating their life and you must just know they’re going through something pretty hectic right now.
These characters are always just shown as sad or if they have a mental illness like bi-polar disorder.
Not only that but they’re also shown as having pretty dramatic mood swings where they could hurt the people around them or end up losing their jobs, etc.
What TV gets wrong is that mental illness is so much more than that. Having depression, anxiety or any other mental illness is not a simple thing.
It is not just being sad all the time or having a meltdown one day and then being fine the next.
Mental illness is complicated, multifaceted and pretty much exhausting.
I myself have Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. I don’t stare out of windows sadly while listening to Adele.
I haven’t suddenly been fixed now that I’m on meds. I didn’t have a meltdown and then get magically fixed after learning some major life lesson.
Because I’m mentally ill. It’s an illness. A chronic one that I take medication for and one that I have to manage daily. Most days I’m pretty okay. I can get up and go to work and function even if I feel a little sad.
But there are days when it feels like the crushing weight of my anxiety is never going to go away and I feel so incredibly depressed and anxious that I cannot get out of bed and all I want to do is cry. It’s up and down. It’s a struggle. It’s not easy.
It can be managed with therapy and medication and support from your nearest and dearest but it’s anything but beautiful.
Sometimes you’re really sad. Sometimes you’re stable and kind of okay, but not overjoyed, but you can function.
Or you just don’t feel like talking to people on certain days, but you can still tweet up a storm – mental illness has no set parameters.
I do not know one person who suffers from mental health issues who is like the manic pixie dream girls you see in movies who deal with their issues by constantly being cute, quirky and spontaneous.
We’re too tired for that. Not that depressed people aren’t capable of being little balls of energy, it’s just that it takes so much to be that way that it’s actually really hard.
One show that got mental illness right for me was an Australian show called Please Like Me. The main character, Josh, has a mom who has bi-polar disorder and has tried to commit suicide.
She’s booked into a hospital and put on meds and seems to be doing much better, but then there’s an evening when Rose comes over to Josh’s house and announces that she’s gone off her meds and that she feels amazing while clearly being in the middle of a manic episode.
She doesn’t throw things, she doesn’t swear and cry (although that could also be normal for a mentally ill person) but she’s clearly on some sort of high and she thinks she’s okay without the drugs and you can see the concern on everyone’s faces when they realise just how bad this is going to be for her.
It was extremely well done and showed the show in general does such a great job of showing the nuances of being mentally ill.
But it is one of the few.
Shows like Pretty Little Liars for example are not doing a great job of showing mental illness. Remember when Hanna confessed that she had suffered from bulimia previously? No? Probably because it was over in the space of an episode and she basically implied that it went away all on its own.
Or what about Monk’s Adrian Monk? While the show did bring a lot of awareness to Monk’s OCD and various phobias (especially in a time before it was mainstream to talk about it, it also used his illness as a gimmick and encouraged laughs without showing the often sad and debilitating side effects of OCD.
Let's not even get into Andre from Empire's erratic behaviour and flushing his meds as a way to get back at his father.
While sometimes bi-polar disorder can be characterised by massive mood swings and mental breakdowns, the treatment of Andre's mental illness in the show just seems so... extra.
There are times when he's calm and then he goes from 0 to 100 and does something completely erratic. Can we not see the in between? Can we not have something more realistic?
So if you suffer from mental illness, don’t think you’re doing it wrong just because you don’t mope around the house in your pajamas all day or cry all the time.
If you’re the loved one of someone who suffers from mental illness, remember not to tell them how to handle their depression/anxiety/disorder. You do not get to make those rules just because you saw it somewhere on TV.
Depression may not be beautiful, but it is real and we need to stop treating it like some sort of mystical creature that only pops up every now and then. It’s real and never ending. It’s not for fun and games.