Mental health representation in Media

Now this is just a random post nothing too serious but how many mentally ill people do we see as the lead character where yes they are seen as a strong person, but with an underlying current of ‘Isn’t this funny? Laugh at the person who is struggling with something we don’t understand’

I suddenly twigged onto this after watching an Ally McBeal series I got from a charity shop yesterday.

She sees things, talks and dances with hallucinations, struggles with relationships, is promiscuous and generally shows a lot of the signs of severe mental health problems. But these are all the parts of her we should be worrying about in the program…instead they are the ‘funny’ parts of a program that shows an otherwise strong woman. What kind of role model was she for anyone growing up with issues??

Adrian Monk, a detective with severe PTSD, anxiety, OCD etc where again these are often the ‘funny’ side notes of an otherwise serious detective program.

Sheldon Cooper a young man with obvious Autistic spectrum disorder who is a brilliant physicist, top of his field but is made out to be the ‘silly’ one who often is the butt of the other characters jokes.

Bernard Black and alcoholic possible depressive with severe anger management and emotional issues. Again the lead ‘silly’ one in the program.


Now don’t get me wrong these are programs I have enjoyed and laughed at many times. I Like these characters but often can’t laugh where I’m obviously supposed to as I feel their pain! I see myself in their struggles and where the writers have Β thought that it is just a funny situation I watch and feel a tightness in my chest as memories come flooding back often meaning I change channels or fast forward through the section that makes me uncomfortable.

It suddenly twigged today that maybe these are a stepping stone for people who do not struggle with mental health issues to understand what they comprise of but I can’t help thinking that we should have moved past this by now. Why should the comedy come from peoples struggles? Would it really be so hard for them to just include mental health issues in a comedy without having it be the main butt of the joke or the alternative of it being the serious dramatic problem to be solved?

Bring on the Mental Health revolution!






15 thoughts on “Mental health representation in Media

  1. Well said. With Ally McBeal I got the impression that the issues she had weren’t meant to be in any way realistic, they were intended as more of a quirky plot device. Then later it became more real, and it was like they didn’t really know what to do with her character, and it pretty much ended the show.

  2. I love Black Books so much precisely because of the way Bernard is portrayed. Although I’m not quite as disastrous as he is I can relate to the character hugely and… I don’t know. I think they do it well. Along with the laughing at his obvious tendency to break down, there’s also a sweetness there. He’s utterly off his head and shouts at everyone, but his friends love him anyway and always come back to him in the end.

    Plus, I worked in a bookshop not unlike Black Books once. I mean, really similar. Books everywhere. I’d sit behind the counter drinking endless cups of coffee, smoking out back and reading. Occasionally I’d go outside to swear or hit the wall if a customer was particularly annoying. The manager was like Manny, all weird conversations and paranoia.

    I think the thing about Black Books is that they all had a problem. It’s dark humour, and I don’t know… I just get it, I suppose.

    However, I agree entirely about Ally McBeal. Oddly, I also have a boxset from a charity shop. Think I’ll give it back to charity after reading your post… I remember finding it incredibly triggering the first time round.

    1. See this is why I think it took me so long to realise, I love these programs! I relate to all the characters over their little idiosyncrasies and a lot of my friends are similar to the characters too. I’m just not sure how well it helps the public at large to understand things any better.
      Saying that I’m not gonna stop watching them or any of the others that may do the same because they do help me sometimes πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks for reading πŸ™‚ We are all breaking down barriers when it comes to mental health one little step at a time. Maybe one day I won’t be ashamed or scared to say to people about the problems I have but the only way that will happen is to talk about it and make people understand.

  3. I think if they would be careful on how they portray mental illness, it could help to break the stigma attached to it. But this isn’t the way. They should have mental illness being portrayed on Television shows as a way of helping people be more comfortable with it in everyday life. It could be funny at times, but there is a fine line between funny and insulting.

    1. Exactly! I mean I laugh at some of the situations I get myself into sometimes but when it is the entire premise of the so called comedy…it’s just not right! I’m sure we’ll get there some day but I just wish it would happen a little faster lol

  4. Great observations. As a non-TV-owner, I don’t get to catch these things. One reason I don’t own a TV is that there are so many PTSD triggers on there that I can’t stand to watch it. But you are so right, in that if the mentally ill characters in the media were identified as such, it would very much help to de-mystify and most importantly, de-demonize “the rest of us” who permit ourselves to be labeled and stigmatized. Thank you.

    1. The more people know and understand the less we’ll have to hide and make things worse. I can understand why you don’t have a television, there are some days that I can’t watch it and stick to DVD’s that I know won’t make memories come back. I’m glad you liked the post πŸ™‚ x

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