Representation of Depression, Bipolar Disorder, and OCD in TV

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13 Reasons Why[edit | edit source]

The show 13 Reasons Why[1] is one example of a depiction of depression in the media. 13 Reasons Why was released on Netflix in March of 2017; the show follows Hannah Baker, a high schooler who commits suicide. She leaves 13 tapes behind which outline how those around her wronged her and it ultimately led her to taking her own life. This show gained a lot of attention as its depiction of mood disorders and suicide was not only found to be inaccurate but also dangerous to potential viewers. Suicide, according to the CDC, can be defined as a death caused by injury to one self[2]. While the show does portray suicide to follow the defintion, Hannah’s motivation and how she addressed in days prior was where many experts disagreed. One of the major critiques that came out of the show was that how suicide, and Hannah’s decision to take her own life, was portrayed in a way that is often inaccurate to those who suffer from suicidal thoughts. The show’s main premise is that her suicide was revenge oriented when in reality there is so much more to it than what is at the surface. Many psychologists came forward saying this ultimately romanticizes suicide which, in turn, can be extremely dangerous for young viewers.

Many psychologists and various other critiques of the show came out to discuss ways to better depict mental health in the media. One suggestion could be to better describe what mood disorders are and how that may have led Hannah to committing suicide. It also suggested that the show should have highlighted the telltale warning signs. Finally, suicide should never be romanticized and the show faced much backlash for breaking guidelines on how to show suicide in the media. While it is important to highlight the issue of young adults suffering from various mental health disorders, it is critical that it is done in an appropriate manner.

Silver Linings Playbook[edit | edit source]

Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic-comedy-drama film made in 2012 written and directed by David O. Russell. The story is about a man, Patrick Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who has bipolar disorder and is recently released from a psychiatric hospital. Upon his release, he tries to win back his estranged wife with the help of Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), who offers to help him get his wife back if he enters a dance competition with her. The film was critically acclaimed for both actors’ performances, but some have questioned the accuracy of Cooper’s portrayal of bipolar disorder. In the start of the film, Patrick Solitano is sent to a psychiatric facility in Maryland after nearly beating to death his wife’s lover. Although not explicitly stated, it is implied that Solitano is in a state of mania, which is a symptom of bipolar I disorder[3], given his erratic and energetic behavior (i.e. attacking his wife’s lover, constantly exercising). A manic episode is a state of abnormally elevated or irritated mood and high energy, characterized by disruptive behavior[4]. This kind of behavior can also be seen later in the film, when Solitano breaks the window of his childhood bedroom. After returning to his parents’ house from the psychiatric facility, Solitano is obsessed with reconnecting with his estranged wife, oblivious to as to why everyone is keeping them apart. Up until the end of the film, Solitano remains focused on this goal, while failing to realize that what he did was wrong. Despite this accurate depiction of a manic episode, Solitano is never shown displaying symptoms of a depressive episode. A depressive episode is a state characterized by both a depressed mood and a loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities.[5] Depressive episodes can occur in both bipolar I and bipolar II disorder[6], but Solitano never displays such symptoms in the film, which reduces the accuracy of the film's depiction of bipolar disorder.

Glee[edit | edit source]

Glee is another popular television series that highlights a variety of mental illnesses[7]. Glee follows the lives of various high schoolers and teachers who are involved with the school’s glee club. Each of the characters have a unique background, some of which are affected by mental illness. One character, in particular, where the story line follows her struggles is Emma Pilsbury, the school’s guidance counselor. Emma suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which is a disorder where one has repeated thoughts, sensations, or ideas (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions)[8]. In Glee, Emma's obsessions are depicted as a need for everything to be clean. Emma's compulsions compel her to meticulously wash her food and her hands throughout the show. As the seasons went on, Emma seems to address it by taking medicine to help calm her down and stop the constant compulsions. Glee, and particularly the character of Emma Pilsbury, grabbed the attention of many psychologists and other experts in the field of mental health. OCD, while not shown too frequently throughout the media, is often mischaracterized when it is. Many critics felt that Glee, once again, chose to only capture a small part of the disorder when in actuality it is very complex. For example, people with OCD feel anxiety when performing compulsions[9]; in Glee, however, Emma Pilsbury is often seen washing her food and hands in an upbeat mood.

  1. 13 Reasons Why - Wikipedia
  2. "Facts About Suicide". 2021-09-07. Retrieved 2021-09-15.
  3. "NIMH » Bipolar Disorder". Retrieved 2021-09-15.
  4. "Bipolar disorder - Symptoms and causes". Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2021-09-15.
  5. "Major Depressive Episodes in Bipolar Disorder". Verywell Mind. Retrieved 2021-09-16.
  6. "NIMH » Bipolar Disorder". Retrieved 2021-09-16.
  7. "Mental Illness on TV". Refuat Hanefesh. 2017-07-03. Retrieved 2021-09-16.
  8. "What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?". Retrieved 2021-09-16.
  9. "What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?". Retrieved 2021-09-16.