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2 Movies and TV Shows that Misrepresent Depression (and 3 that Get it Right)

Young man watching TV shows with his dog shocked at inaccuracy of depression portrayal onscreen
Getty Images / NoSystem images

Depression affects millions of people worldwide, yet it is still often stigmatized and misunderstood. Though they have gotten better, Hollywood and the entertainment industry have a hand in this – depression is often misrepresented as a “temporary” problem or the driving force behind eventual destruction.

Today, Bryce Evans explores two movies and TV shows that succumb to these mental health clichés perpetuated by the media. Next, he shares three of his favorite examples of depression portrayed “right” on the silver and smaller screens.

People tend to spend a lot of time in front of a screen. Whether at a theater or binge-watching shows at home, a good chunk of our time can include watching TV and movies.

It can be all too easy to sit, relax, and enjoy a story without stepping back to think about what's going on. In truth, it's so vital for us to be aware and critical of what we're watching – especially when it comes to the accurate portrayal of mental health issues.

What is the show or movie trying to say? Is it a realistic or acceptable depiction of life? Does it have a fair representation of depression, anxiety, or any mental illness it's trying to convey? How would someone living with depression feel about watching it?

Thankfully, we're starting to see a significant shift in the entertainment industry. Mental illness depictions based on stigma and stereotypes due to lazy writing are becoming less common. As more people call out harmful entertainment, we're beginning to see more authentic, honest, and thoughtful characters on the silver and smaller screen.

But there's still more work to do.

Here's a list of the good and the bad when it comes to Hollywood and how it can portray depression.

I understand that mental health issues may look different for everybody, and these examples are my opinion only.

Two examples of depression misrepresented in film and TV

13 Reasons Why: Suicide is vengeful

There was a lot of conversation and criticism surrounding “13 Reasons Why” immediately after its release. The biggest problem with the series is how it romanticizes suicide.

The show paints suicide as a way to seek and gain revenge against someone who has done you wrong - a common myth about suicidal thoughts that only adds to the stigma. This portrays an unrealistic vision of the consequences and aftermath of someone taking their own life.

The show goes against guidelines in the Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide developed by suicide prevention experts and journalists.

The show neglected to offer audiences any sign of hope. The suicide remains off-screen so it doesn't get in the way of the "mystery." We don't see the lead asking for help or talking about their feelings until after the "main event."

Silver Linings Playbook: All you need is love, apparently

Silver Linings Playbook” had a lot going for it, especially when representing the intricacies of mental health issues. Unfortunately, it ends with the message that a new relationships will cure all.

But real life is much more complicated. Treating depression can take years of trying different medications, therapies, and lifestyle changes.

We need fictional stories to depict that reality. Doing so will make it easier to accept our struggles with mental health and take the necessary steps to cope and recover.

Three examples that get it right

BoJack Horseman: Depression isn’t just a plot device

There's been a ton of buzz around "BoJack," and for good reason. After a rocky first season, this show ends up accurately depicting the raw and torturous inner thoughts many of us face when dealing with depression.

While it may be "the saddest comedy," I think that's why it's so powerful. Many shows tend to throw depression into the mix whenever it seems fit, but this show centers on living life with it. Depression isn't used in the real world when it's convenient for your life, so why should it be for the plot?

Mr. Robot: Mental health can issues have many faces

I was pleasantly surprised with the character Elliot in "Mr. Robot." Many scenes in that show had played out in my own life before. Because of this, I felt connected with this character and understood that I was not alone in my struggles. The show feels real and raw, similar to "BoJack." But the quality acting makes it easier to feel connected with Elliot than with a cartoon horse.

Along with the above, "Mr. Robot" brings more diversity to depictions of mental health, which is still a work in progress in many ways.

Inside Out: Why expressing our emotions is so important

Consider this a special mention of an incredible animated movie, which eloquently portrays the role of different emotions in our emotional health and intelligence. This is vital for young people to see and learn.

While not explicitly about depression, I can see the deep connection between this story and how unexpressed emotions can hurt youth (especially young men).

The takeaway

Depictions of mental health issues aren't solely the responsibility of the writers, movie studios, and critics. I've often mindlessly watched shows only to realize (much) later how misrepresentative they were of issues like anxiety and depression.

So, be mindful of what you're watching, if you can. When you see mental health issues like depression misrepresented in the media, comment on it! Forums, comment threads, your blog... use these to help add to the conversation and spread awareness. Likewise, when you see "mental health done right" in a movie or show, share it and celebrate!

The more we put our time, attention, and money toward the stories that get it right, the easier it will be for us to understand, cope with, and support others struggling with mental health issues like depression.

The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.

The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen. 

NPS-ALL-NP-00992 MAY 2023

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