While it is a movie, tv show, or video games job to be entertaining, there are occasions where these mediums manage to touch us on a personal level. We talked about a few shows that add to the mental health discussion.
Ted Lasso – Steven Gates
*Minor Spoilers Ahead
Ted Lasso is a beautiful show full of wholesomeness, comedy, kindness, and inspiration. It follows, titular character, Ted Lasso in his journey from being the head coach of a Division 2 college football program to the culture shock of being the head coach of fictional Premier League soccer club The AFC Richmond Greyhounds. Hidden beneath the wacky premise and heartwarming character development is the overwhelmingly real approach to mental health and mental illness. After exploring a bit more of Ted’s personal life, we begin to see panic attacks surface and get progressively worse. After a completely unrelated incident involving a player and Earl, the greyhounds mascot, the team brings on a therapist. After some resistance from Ted initially, he agrees to sit down with the team therapist and slowly opens up before dropping a major bombshell from his past. There’s actually a beautiful article in the LA Times about the show’s approach to therapy from the point of view of a therapist. My goal today, however, is to celebrate the show’s season 2 finale. It’s leaked to a media outlet that Ted unexpectedly left a very important match due to a panic attack, after it was widely believed that he had a stomach issue. Ted’s insecurity about discussing his mental health led him to believe that he violated the trust of his team. His team completely understands and forgives him without a second thought. After the match is over, during the press conference Ted initially states he’s going to address the article before correcting himself and saying that he’ll address the truth.
The reason this is very important revolves around the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s fairly common knowledge that people are apprehensive to discuss mental health and mental illness out of fear. Fear of how they’ll be perceived by friends, family, coworkers, etc… Breaking that stigma is the biggest first step we, as a society, can take to improve the lives of those that suffer from some form of mental illness. It allows people to open up a dialogue and seek professional help to better their lives and learn to cope. Ted Lasso’s positive approach to breaking the stigma is becoming more widely recognized and my hope, personally, is that other media will take this similar approach in the future. We unfortunately live in a time where mental illness is vilified as the root of the main antagonist in horror movies, or relationships, video games, etc… As someone who has been diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorder, it’s a breath of fresh air to see such a positive character break that stigma for himself and show that with a little help and an open mind situations like mine can be a little easier. I applaud Ted Lasso for it’s candidness and attempts to change how people view mental health and look forward to seeing how season 3 continues to build on breaking the stigma.
Bojack Horseman – Leslie Snipes
I’m a big fan of animation and Will Arnett so naturally I was stoked when Bojack was announced on Netflix. What I didn’t expect was a show about a former sitcom horse actor to have such a poignant perspective on mental health. Outside of the show already touching on issues like gun control and sexuality, it also adds a lot to the discussion about depression and self-destructive behavior. Bojack suffers from addiction which leads to a slew of problems in his life. He is also strangely self-aware that his addiction and depression (and other behavioral issues caused by a chaotic childhood) are the root cause of all these issues, but his environment lacks the guidance for him to find a way out.
Then there’s other characters handling their own issues like Diane who struggles with anxiety and depression which affects many of her relationships and even the work she loves. Although the majority of the characters are anthropomorphic, it’s refreshing to see a modern and unique take on such relatable mental health issues.
* Profanity Warning
Neon Genesis Evangelion – Leslie Snipes
Another animated show I highly recommend. For me what stands out most is that it takes a non-traditional approach with the lead character Shinji. Most of the lead protagonists in anime are very expressive and overt about their feelings. Shinji is not. He is quiet, reflective, and most times stuck in his own head (which are represented through his inner monologues through the series). A reflection of his severe depression. Writer Hideaki Anno was open to the fact that he suffered severe depression prior to creating the series which inspired those themes to carry over to the show.
The anime does a great job of visualizing Shinji’s loneliness and apathetic behavior towards the world and his anger at his father for abandoning him and his mother. On a personal level, I felt a deep connection to Shinji’s depression and anger at his family. That feeling of wanting to run away from responsibility because you can’t manage your feelings. I could go into other characters like Shinji’s father, Rei, and the controversial ending but I recommend you check it out for yourself.