Fandom 5: Mental Illness in Pop Culture

May 30, 2017

Hey friends! Tomorrow is the last day of May, which means Mental Health Awareness Month is coming to an end. I've read some fantastic posts about mental health over the past few weeks, like Jess' post about mental health in art and Kayla's Therapy Diary, and they inspired me to chat with you all about my experiences with depression and anxiety.

While talking about mental health is less taboo now than it has been in the past, there is still such a stigma surrounding mental illnesses. I'm completely comfortable talking about my own struggles with mental illness, but it definitely hasn't always been that way. I've been on and off of anti-depressants for the past ten years now, and I spent a good chunk of that time ignoring my issues. I would take myself off of the medication on my own just because I was sick of taking it (bad idea, btw), and rely on alcohol to feel even remotely "normal."

When my little brother died in 2014, my anxiety got out of control. I had never experienced a panic attack, so when I had my first one shortly after his death, my husband rushed me to the emergency room because I was FREAKING OUT. Obviously, I wasn't having a heart attack like I had thought...but now that I've had several panic attacks, I can say for sure that they don't get any easier. 

I live with Dysthymia (chronic depression) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder with a Panic Disorder thrown in there too because why not, right? Some days, my medication doesn't help much. I'll convince myself that I have a blood clot or appendicitis when really, it's just my anxiety manifesting itself in all kinds of fun ways. I'll lay in bed at night thinking about what I'll have to do if my house burns down, and shouldn't I just pack a bag now, just in case?? It's tough, but it helps to have a supportive husband and friends who have gone through similar things. 

I've been noticing mental illnesses more and more in pop culture, and I think that's great! Sure, there are some stereotypical tropes that show up, but overall, I think it's a good thing that more people are becoming familiar with different mental disorders. The only way to overcome the stigma is to help people realize that these are health conditions that need to be treated, not choices we make because we're lazy or selfish. 

Here are a few of my very favorite characters on TV, and surprise surprise, they also live with some form of mental illness! All of these disorders have affected me, if not personally, then by watching a loved one struggle with it. Take a look:

1) Gretchen - You're the Worst
For being a comedy, You're the Worst has done an awesome job dealing with some dark issues. Season 2 revolves around Gretchen's clinical depression, and I found myself relating to her time and time again. Not only do you get to see how depression affects Gretchen personally, you see how her relationships are affected as well. Watching her boyfriend Jimmy try to "fix" her was so heart-wrenching, especially since I've dealt with that several times. Season 3 focuses more on managing mental illness and self care, and I can't applaud the show's creators enough for portraying depression in such an honest and relatable way.

2 Death the Kid - Soul Eater
Death the Kid from Soul Eater seemed to deal with a plethora of disorders, but the most prominent one to me was his OCD. His fixation on symmetry was used for comic relief throughout the anime, but there were some moments that were truly upsetting to watch, like his struggle to take an exam because he couldn't write the perfect 'k.' Several shows touch on living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but this is the first show that got me to really pay attention to it. 

3) Abed - Community
More and more characters with Asperger syndrome are showing up on TV, and there have been quite a few realistic depictions (according to my highly reliable source, Google). Community does an incredible job portraying Asperger's, with Abed's awkward physical gestures, inability to pick up on social cues, and detailed expertise in a specialized subject. While he was never officially diagnosed in the show, many people view Abed as one of the more accurate representations of Asperger's in media. 

4) Piglet - Winnie the Pooh
You guys, basically every character in the Hundred Acre Woods deals with a mental disorder. Piglet is the most relatable to me though, since he suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. As a kid, Piglet worrying and shaking in fear was just funny to me. Now, as an adult who suffers from GAD, it's totally not funny anymore. Piglet worries about everything, fixates on what he'll have to do if the thing he's worrying about actually happens, and gets worked up to the point of having anxiety attacks. What I love about Piglet is that he doesn't back down from adventures despite his anxiety...I'm not lying when I say that a cartoon character is truly an inspiration for me to be brave despite my fears.

5) Elliot - Mr. Robot
The depiction of Dissociative Identity Disorder in Mr. Robot is so freakin' fantastic. Most portrayals of DID in pop culture are over-the-top, highlighting only the extremes of the disorder. In Elliot's case, it isn't sensationalized. While he's unaware of his condition in the first season, season 2 shows Elliot attempting to ignore, fight with, and ultimately work with his other part. Mr. Robot is a part of Elliot after all, and watching Elliot begin to accept that fact is fascinating. 

While there are several great depictions of what it's like to live with a mental disorder in TV shows, there are even more inaccurate ones out there. But I truly believe that the more we talk about mental illness in general, the less misunderstood it will become.

Over to you!


What do you think about portrayals of mental illness in pop culture? Let me know in the comments below!

© Her Geekery. Design by FCD.