5 TV Series That Show What Living With Mental Health Concerns Is Really Like

From PTSD to BPD, these shows tackle several complicated subjects really well.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1800-599-0019 to reach KIRAN, a 24/7 national helpline set by the ministry of social justice. You can also mail icall@tiss.edu or dial 022-25521111 (Monday-Saturday, 8am to 10pm) to reach iCall, a psychosocial helpline set up by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).

OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Hotstar have changed the way TV shows are made, and one of the most welcome changes has been the portrayal of mental health.

Earlier, even American TV shows wouldn’t give much space to the fact that people experience mental health concerns. Yes, we did see our favourite characters going to the therapist once in a while, but that was about it.

Remember the best TV shows from the 90s and 2000s? It was rare to find your favourite characters at the time seeking professional help. Be it heartbreaks or job losses, they solved their problems over drinks (or coffee) with friends — which is great, but we know that doesn’t always work in real life. Some celebrated characters even actively downplayed the importance of therapy. Even relatively progressive shows for that time, such as Sex and the City, got it all wrong with Carrie Bradshaw declaring therapy was for those who could not solve their own problems.

In recent times, several shows have managed to dabble in the topic, with sensitive and nuanced takes on mental health. These shows are informative and normalise experiences of psychological disorders by looking at them through the lens of empathy.

Here are some shows that pretty realistically depict the experiences of people with mental health concerns:

1. Big Mouth

This animated show follows a bunch of school kids going through puberty and accurately represents how awkward, confusing and even terrifying teenage can be, and all of it with healthy doses of sarcasm. There are “Hormone Monsters” following around each character, influencing their decisions — some of which backfire badly. In Season 2, Depression Kitty from The Depression Department replaces Jessi’s hormone monster, making her do things that people do when they experience depression. She follows Jessi around wherever she goes and lures her away from her friends and influences her to sleep all day. While the writers of the show deftly untangle several complicated topics like abuse, sexuality, toxic masculinity and even the #MeToo movement with comedy, their take on depression is particularly significant. The makers of the show have successfully conveyed what depression feels like by giving it a physical form and character and making the audience “see” what depression does.

Stream it on Netflix

2. This Is Us

This is an intense one. If you’re planning to watch this, keep a box of tissues handy because you WILL cry over every episode. The show covers everything from depression to anxiety, to panic attacks, abuse, trauma, addiction and bad relationships with food through the journey of three siblings. This Is Us takes a deep dive into why each of its characters are the way they are, humanising their perceived flaws, that helps the audience empathise with them. It shows us how our experiences of past trauma, loss or grief can shape us who we are at the present.

Stream it on Amazon Prime Video or Hotstar

3. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

As the name suggests, Kimmy is indeed unbreakable, as she is rescued from a “reverend” who kidnapped her when she was a teenager and kept her with several other woman in an underground bunker for years. She lost the formative years of her life, so when Kimmy is rescued, she doesn’t fit well with the real world. But that doesn’t stop her indomitable spirit and she sets out to fulfil all her dreams. Kimmy learns to live with her new-found freedom, realising that much of what the reverend told her was untrue. We look at Kimmy’s experience of with living with trauma and PTSD through a comic lens, but the show manages to hit home hard the point it tries to make.

Stream it on Netflix

4. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

You wouldn’t think a musical comedy would handle the topic of mental health seriously, but you’re wrong. This TV show handles with deft and compassion the topic of mental health, and a complicated one at that. It follows a lawyer, Rebecca Bunch, as she moves cities on a whim to be with her crush, whom she had met in summer camp. In the third season, she gets diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. The show casts an empathetic eye on a disorder that is stigmatised even by mental health professionals and was praised by many for its portrayal.

Stream it on Netflix

5. Big Little Lies

This show isn’t just about female friendship, it tells us the stories of women who have suffered violence and abuse, and how they learn to live with the suffering. If many of us have judged women for staying in abusive marriages, Celeste’s character shows us that things aren’t black and white. It’s not always easy to leave an abusive marriage despite the trauma, or even get over your abuser after their death. It shows us through Bonnie, albeit only in the second season, how violence while growing up can shape the adult that you become. It shows us through Jane how women go about their lives, bringing up children, living with symptoms of PTSD after having being raped. While friends and family can often look for perfect and permanent solutions to people’s mental health concerns, Big Little Lies teaches us that our journey of healing isn’t always a straight line. It teaches us that healing can mean different things for different people and that it might not happen at all for some.

The show has its problems—it gets a lot wrong about therapy (read more here), and its portrayal of the only black woman in the Monterey Five (read here), but it’s still worth a watch for everything it gets right.

Stream it on Hotstar