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Five TV Shows with Therapist Approved Mental Health Representation

I am a huge fan of television. It is my go-to thing to do to relax and decompress after a long day. It is a way for me to take my mind off work and anything else going on and focus on the problems of fictional people. As TV is focused on depicting the lives of human beings, there is going to be talk about mental health. Unfortunately, a large portion of mental health/illness representation in the media is negative. Stigma is easily perpetuated through the small screen and it can reach a lot of people. This isn’t to say there isn’t good representation for mental health and mental illnesses, however. The more we learn about mental health and the more correct information is shared with the general society, the more positive representation we get to see in TV. Now, if you search “TV shows with good mental health representation”, you will get a ton of results from different therapists and other folks who work in the mental health sphere. I am not going to claim that this list is innovative, nor is it a comprehensive list of television shows that have positive mental health representation. This is really a list of 5 shows that I personally have found to have positive, and mostly accurate, mental health representation.


1.     9-1-1



I love a procedural show, and this fits right into that category. This show follows a Los Angeles firehouse and a Los Angeles police sergeant as they respond to different (and very… interesting) 9-1-1 calls. This show heavily emphasizes trauma, specifically how natural and other disasters can have an impact not only on our physical health and safety, but on our mental health as well. The show specifically touches on a few diagnosable mental illness including substance use disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and in one season a character develops post-partum depression. This show has 6 seasons (streaming on Hulu) and its 7th season will be premiering on ABC in March.


2.     The Haunting of Hill House



I’ll be completely honest – this is one of my favorite shows that I have ever seen. It is beautifully written, filmed, and acted. I have seen the show upwards of five times and the same scenes still makes me cry. If you have a Netflix subscription and you have not seen this yet, I strongly suggest watching it. It is a ghost show: there are a few jump scares and very creepy vibes, but the story is worth pushing past the horror. The story follows 5 siblings throughout their childhood and into their adult life as they deal with the trauma following their mother’s death in a house they were living in. The main focus is how trauma can change who we are and continue to affect us decades after an event occurred. The Haunting of Hill House delves into grief, substance use disorder, depression, and on a grand scale, trauma. This show has 10 episodes, all streaming on Netflix.


3.     Moon Knight



This is a bit of a controversial show to list, as the representation is not completely accurate. However, this show has the best representation of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) in popular media that I have seen. It is based off a Marvel comic and follows a character through him learning he has an alter (spoiler alert! - at the end, it turns out he has two alters) that is a bit of an antihero/vigilante of sorts. DID is not commonly represented in media, and when it is, it is often in a negative light and the characters tend to be violent (see: the movie Split). When shows represent more severe mental illnesses in this way, they strengthen the violent stigma around them, when, in reality, most people who have diagnoses of these mental illness (DID, schizophrenia, etc.) are more often victims of violent acts rather than perpetrators. This show has 6 episodes, all streaming on Disney+.


4.     Grey’s Anatomy



This show has been on since 2005 – it is about to air its 20th season. If you haven’t heard of it, it is a show about a hospital in the Seattle area and essentially does a “day in the life” of the surgical floor of said hospital. In the beginning, the show does a fantastic job at representing multiple mental health struggles. In the former half of the series, it delves into trauma, both on a grand scale and small scale, and the main character experiences suicidality within the first three seasons. I know most shows on this list really get into how trauma affects us as human beings (for good reason – we all experience it!), but this show loves to end their seasons with incredibly traumatizing experiences for their characters and will not dismiss how that trauma affects them. The characters will go seasons and continue to show how that trauma affects them. Many shows will spend a couple episodes discussing this, while Grey’s spends years discussing how deeply trauma affects its characters. The show (currently) has 420 episodes streaming on Netflix, with the latest season streaming on Hulu. Its 20th season premiers on ABC in March.


5.     Shameless


Shameless is a show that follows a family that lives on the South Side of Chicago. Now, this show is not accurate to the lives of folks who actually live on the South Side, and the actual house the show was filmed at is barely considered South Side. However, the show does a great job exploring grief, trauma, substance use disorder (both how it affects the individual using and how it affects those around them), bipolar disorder, and more. Each character has their share of struggling with their mental health and the show emphasizes how poverty can have a strong influence over mental health and other psychological aspects. The show has 134 episodes spanning 11 seasons, all streaming on Netflix.


If you’re looking for shows that explore mental health that don’t necessarily add to the stigma surrounding certain diagnoses, these five are great to consider. If needed, check up on the trigger warnings! Since these shows all explore trauma on different levels, there can and will be some triggering events in certain episodes.

Written by,

Annika Bushman, Intern



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