I am a huge fan of TV drama, especially soap operas, and I’m also a huge believer in talking about mental health, so it makes sense for me to list my top 4 TV programmes where I learnt more about mental health. For anyone who hasn’t seen the shows I discuss below, there will be spoilers!
Mindhunter is based on the origins of the FBI Behavioural Science Unit in the 1970s and 1980s and looks at the first interviews conducted with serial killers to enable the FBI to find out more about the psychology behind the crimes. It’s a fascinating watch just on that basis, but there was also another element to it that caught my attention. At the very end of season 1, we see Holden (Jonathan Groff) have a panic attack. The panic attack is depicted as Holden not being able to stand, breathing very fast, clutching his chest, and not being able to fully comprehend what people are saying around him. A nurse asks him questions where he just replies ‘I don’t know’ to all of them. I’ve seen a few TV portrayals of panic attacks but this very different – it seemed very heavy yet understated. I felt, as a viewer, extremely included in what Holden was feeling and it’s a scene that stays with me for the impact it had. In the first episode of season 2, we see Holden taking medication and being told to look out for what could cause him stress. Panic disorder is also mentioned but not focused on. It’s not a big element of the show going forward, and being 40 years ago it comes with it a different sense of how mental health would be looked at today, but I found it extremely interesting to watch nonetheless.
The Sinner (Netflix)
Each new season of The Sinner has a different focal character and looks into what has happened to them in their past in the lead up to where we meet them, usually at a crime scene. Matt Bomer leads the third season of The Sinner where he plays a character called Jamie, and he is in a car crash which kills his friend. The show focuses a lot on trauma, and for Jamie this is frequently shown in the time following the crash. We see him suffer from PTSD symptoms, such as flashbacks and panic attacks, and he also doesn’t talk about what he is going through. The story ends in a very dramatic way, with there being many twists and turns along the way, like any interesting drama. However, from the season as a whole I took away one big message; sometimes it’s not one event that can cause a person to suffer with their mental health, it can be a series of things in life. In one episode in the season, another character talks about how men suffer from living in a culture that puts upon them certain expectations. This in itself is difficult to hear, but perhaps highlights how far society still needs to go in terms of turning around the potentially harmful societal norms that exist.
Mr Robot (Amazon Prime)
For a while, all I knew about Rami Malek’s Mr Robot television series was that it looked like it was about computer hacking, but it is actually about so much more. Across the four seasons, we meet Elliot Alderson (played by Rami Malek), who is a cyber security engineer by day and by night he is vigilante hacker trying to take down a global organisation. However, although the whole show is based on cyber-crime in one way or another, it is the focus on Elliot that I took from it. When we first meet Elliot we quickly understand that he isn’t good in social situations. He is actually suffers from clinical depression, social anxiety and has paranoia and delusions, and sees a therapist. I love a show where from the last second of the last episode, you know that the whole show has been written altogether – it hasn’t been written as it went along. We find out in the last episode that Elliot has Dissociative Identity Disorder and that the Elliot we know is one personality we got to meet. We as the audience were another personality as Elliot had been talking to us the whole time. He also had other personalities as well and the final episode does a good job in explaining it all – much better than I can. Elliot’s traumatic childhood made his mind create these personalities in order to protect him, and so we got to see what happened from that. As well as it being such a cleverly written show, it also spoke a lot about society and the people within it, as well as the way our minds can try to protect us from things we go through.
BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
When I first started watching BoJack Horseman (an adult animated series where animals and people live side by side), I didn’t really like the title character. BoJack came across as arrogant and self-destructive. It’s only from watching the show that I now understand that this is probably the point. We learn a lot about BoJack’s upbringing and how much he suffered from having parents who cared very little about him, and how that impacted on his life as he got older. It’s also interesting that he is extremely self-aware. He knows his character traits and faults, but he is stuck in a path of self-destruction. For me, this show highlights how someone can seemingly have everything in life but still be unhappy. Material goods don’t make up for something a person within them has missing. For BoJack, he has a big house in Hollywood, but he doesn’t like his life. Although the show doesn’t just focus on him and we get to see other characters in different stages of their own lives, BoJack is the one that brings them all together. It’s interesting that a show that has a lot of humour can take a different look at mental health but still be as poignant. BoJack Horseman has a lot of things going on within it, but the main thing I will take from it is the realistic look at the different elements that can make up how a person sees themselves, both from their childhood and their own self-destructive ways that can lead from it.
Are there any programmes you have watched where you have learnt about mental health? Let me know in the comments below.