Television has come a long way from the days where problems faced could be easily solved by the end of a 30 minute episode. The trouble with that type of black and white mentality is the distance from reality that these shows represented. Life is more often than not complicated and not so easily pieced together. Frequently these problems manifest themselves as mental illness.
Closure seems to be a word that has been drawn up to appease those enjoying the lives of others from their television set. Thankfully the face of television has gotten a facelift and amid multiple attempts from various media outlets to diminish the stigma attached to mental illness, more and more popular TV series have gotten on board to further open up a much-needed conversation surrounding mental health.
According to recent statistics, 20 percent of the Canadian population will suffer from some form of mental illness. These television show producers have managed to incorporate characters which encompass the multi-level dimensions of the human element. People gravitate towards more relatable characters, and shows like Bojack Horseman, Lady Dynamite, Girls and Rick and Morty have zeroed in on this technique to incorporate what has become somewhat of a taboo subject, to their advantage.
Bojack Horseman, being the most notorious out of the bunch, covers the life of a washed-up television star who once had big dreams for himself, but feels his best days are now behind him. One of the producers, Raphael Bob-Waksberg is quoted as saying that Bojack’s depression is multi-causal, there is no one thing from which his depression has stemmed. There is solace within the idea that depression is not a one-size-fits all kind of disorder and can manifest itself differently from one person to another. Watching these characters on television shows audiences the different faces of depression without over-exaggerating any one element of the disorder – something that is essential to lessening the stigma.
The Netflix original series Lady Dynamite offers the same sort of relatable main character. Marie Bamford’s real-life experience in mental institutions, gives the show an edge in comically navigating her character through the lens of Bipolar Disorder. The underlying theme may be that of mental illness but it is presented in such a way that it demonstrates to the audience that although mental illness may be present in her life, it does not define her as a person. The value associated with tackling such a tough subject in the public sphere is more than apparent. Preconceived notions tend to get thrown to the wayside when viewers are able to see that although these characters do have a mental illness, other dimensions to their personality are still present.
Perhaps most importantly, the audience that these shows are having the biggest effect on are those suffering themselves from mental illness, which can be extremely isolating. With mental illness being brought into light in such a creative way, it offers new hope for those suffering – those who have been forced to live in the shame of their disease for too long. Opening up a conversation surrounding what so many people shy away from discussing, highlights the positive ways in which fictional characters are able to lighten the burden of a heavy subject.