21 Female TV Characters Battling Mental Health
Thanks to some complex portrayals by some amazing actresses — and let's not forget some stellar writing by series scribes — television is changing how mental health issues are seen. It's been a taboo topic for far too long, something many don't want to talk about, whether they're suffering from it or have a loved one that is. But thanks to these characters, the stigma surrounding mental illness is slowly, but surely, starting to dissipate.
Fleabag, FleabagShe's flawed, she's angry, she distracts herself with sex, she's never referred to by name — but she's a strong female character battling mental health. Instead of facing her depression head-on, Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) uses her sense of humour and sarcasm as a way to keep people from finding out what she's really struggling with: the deaths of her mother and her best friend. The grief and guilt she feels is palpable yet we, the audience, only see it and never really see her communicate it.
This is what they taught us:It's never good to keep things bottled up and rather than sweep things under the rug, find someone to talk to so those issues can be confronted.
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Jessica Jones, Jessica JonesJessica (Krysten Ritter) may be a badass superhero — but being abused and raped again and again will knock down even the strongest of women. The trauma she endures results in PTSD that she copes with by drinking excessively and being generally messed up. Which is understandable.>h3> This is what they taught us: It's always better to suffer loudly than to suffer in silence — though perhaps that needs to be done less violently than Jessica does.
Nola Darling, She's Gotta Have ItNola (DeWanda Wise) is not who you want her to be, and makes that clear time and time again. She's outspoken, complicated, confident and passionate, a modern black woman struggling to define herself as she balances her friends, her work and her lovers. But after being attacked, Nola eventually finds a way to deal with the trauma — by seeking out the help of Dr. Jamison and their sessions are unbelievably real.
This is what they taught us:Like Nola, who visited a psychic, tarot card reader and spiritual cleanser before realizing what she needed was a therapist, it might take a few tries to figure out what method of treatment works best.
Gretchen Cutler, You're the WorstGretchen's (Aya Cash) battle with clinical depression is as raw and real as it gets, whether she stays in bed for days, self-medicates with alcohol and drugs, or attempts to get professional help but treats it like a joke. She also keeps her guard up — which doesn't help, especially when loved ones want to help — but, sadly, it's so common. She eventually found a way to both admit and accept her illness, in a way that didn't marginalize her.
This is what they taught us:Sometimes pushing family and friends away or keeping them at arm's length might seem like a selfless thing, in an effort to not burden them, but it's a time where you can be a little selfish. Also? Those who suffer from depression don't need to be fixed — it's something that happens that just needs to be accepted.
Rainbow Johnson, Black-ishBlack-ish never shies away from tough topics, whether it's racism, politics, police brutality, or the legacy of slavery — and the show manages to somehow do so while maintaining a healthy dose of laughs. But the comedy tackled postpartum like no other show before it. Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) may have been there physically but mentally, she was absent — and so was the typically carefree character, who was visibly distracted and clearly unhappy. And it's the moment when husband Dre pointed out the PPD to Bow that rang true to many moms out there.
"Dre, I don't have postpartum. I'm a doctor, and I would know."
This is what they taught us:That denial is so relatable to so many women because they don't want to ask for help and aren't used to being in a position where they feel they need to. But that anxiety, those overwhelming, complex feelings, that shame and embarrassment, shouldn't be ignored and should be discussed and shared. And if it takes educating those who are nearest and dearest to watch out for signs because one might not be in the right state of mind to ask for help or support if and when it does hit, then do it.
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Rebecca Bunch, Crazy Ex-GirlfriendRebecca (Rachel Bloom) suffers from symptoms of depression and anxiety, is prone to impulsive decisions and delusions, and tends to hallucinate when she's under emotional distress. So dumping her meds? Not a good idea. Things took a turn after she received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, but she worked to find a way to manage her mental health.
This is what they taught us:Just because a person thinks they're in a healthy enough space doesn't mean their meds should be scrapped. It just means they're working.
Penelope Alvarez, One Day at a TimePenelope (Justina Machado) is an army vet and single mom who struggles with depression, anxiety and PTSD, but normalizes how she deals with it, from taking antidepressants to attending therapy sessions. In other words, she's just your average human dealing with something that's normal for a lot of other human beings.
This is what they taught us:Being perfect is overrated. Balancing a career with child-rearing is tough but doing all that while facing emotional and mental challenges of your own can make a person feel like she's drowning. In that "imperfection," as long as it's acknowledged, she can do great things. Heck, she can do everyday normal things. And sometimes that's half the battle.
Maria Bamford, Lady DynamiteLady Dynamite confronts the stigma so often associated with mental health — and turns it on its head. Loosely based on Bamford's life, the comedian has never hid her struggles with bipolar disorder and wasn't about to start with this show. Maria finds a way to make her depiction of mental illness honest and, yes, funny, something you almost never see.
This is what they taught us:The portrayal of the different mental states people go through, and how they overcome it, is so important. Everyone who has mental health issues deal with it in different ways and if it's looked at in a comedic way, that's OK — but do it openly and honestly.
Dr. Jo Karev, Grey's AnatomyJo (Camilla Luddington) meeting her birth mother for the first time was not what she had envisioned. Instead, she not only learned she was conceived during a rape and the birth father was dead, but the doc revealed to her mom that she had an abortion during her marriage to her abusive ex. The parallels were scarily similar but how each dealt with it were very different — and Jo couldn't process it all and spiralled into a deep depression after all the traumatic news was shared.
This is what they taught us:It can take time for a person to not only come to terms with whatever they're dealing with but also actually deal with said issues. Like with most of these, communication is key — but only when ready.
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Carrie Mathison, HomelandThe status of Carrie's (Claire Danes) mental health is obviously hairy considering everything she goes through. The series showcases her emotions in such a raw, complex way and how it affects every aspect of Carrie's life, whether it's about relationships or family, or she's saving the world. And while it doesn't define who she is, her illness is a huge part of her life. Plus, no one can rock an ugly cry better than Danes.
This is what they taught us:Witnessing Carrie keeping her condition under control, thanks to medication and a strong support system, but also seeing her experience psychotic episodes when she's off her meds, is proof to only stop taking them if a doctor gives the OK.
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Dr. Lisa Hudson, Being Mary JaneLisa (Latarsha Rose) had been struggling with depression for years, and attempted suicide with pills before. So when she actually does die by suicide, a look back at the doctor's life showed that despite her success and what she was willing to show the world, she was actually living with a lot of pain, dealing with molestation, struggling in relationships and feeling ignored.
This is what they taught us:Like many cultures around the world, the African-American community typically doesn't like to tackle the subject of mental health and suicide and tend to view depression as a weakness — but that's a stigma that needs to be eradicated, stat.
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Kimmy Schmidt, Unbreakable Kimmy SchmidtFrom afar, Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) is the sweetest, happiest gal in the world but deep down, she's dealing with her 15-year imprisonment in a bunker at the hands of Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. Kimmy's way of dealing with her PTSD was total denial because she didn't want to be a victim and waste another day of her life. Understandable but in spite of her cluelessness and naiveté, she eventually sought therapy after the increasing turmoil in her life began to become too much.
This is what they taught us:It's always easier to help others with their problems rather than confront your own but eventually something's going to give.
Mickey Dobbs, LoveInitially, Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) seems like a fun, quirky woman who balances her career with having a good time but we soon see just how demanding her mental health can be. Mickey identifies herself as an addict of alcohol, sex and love, and her former unstable relationships, her fear of isolation and abandonment, and how she copes is all proof of that.
This is what they taught us:Being self-aware and unapologetic is always a good thing — even when you're dealing with a not-so-good thing.
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Charley Bordelon West, Queen SugarThe best part about Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) seeking therapy is that it isn't a big deal — it's simply a regular part of her life, something almost unheard of considering black women typically don't look to get help for mental health issues. But Queen Sugar hopes to normalize that and show that getting treatment for one's mental health is just as important as a person's physical health.
This is what they taught us:It's OK to admit you're not doing as well as you're pretending you are.
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Hannah Horvath, GirlsJust like portrayer Lena Dunham suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, so too does her Girls character. And when her anxiety and compulsions reach a high, she performs activities in sets of eight in an effort to get back on track. In the now-infamous Q-tip scene, Hannah's compulsive need to clean her ears becomes kind of grim and when the ER doc refuses to clean her other ear to even things out, she opts to do it herself.
This is what they taught us:Unlike Dunham, who revealed her symptoms at an early age and has been seeing a therapist ever since, the same can't be said for Horvath, who couldn't find a therapist or doctor she liked enough to work with.
Jessi Glaser, Big MouthJust because Big Mouth is animated doesn't mean it can't tackle big, serious issues teens face. It's a confusing time in anyone's life and it's done in a rude, crude and weird way that somehow also manages to be hilarious, poignant and arguably the most accurate depiction of adolescence that's ever appeared onscreen. The second season focuses on sexuality, self-esteem and depression in young women and Jessi (voiced by Jessi Klein) must confront Depression Kitty as she goes through those dark stages.
This is what they taught us:Jessi is able to recognize that she needs the help of a therapist. Acknowledging that is half the battle won.
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Effy Stonem, SkinsWhen we first meet Effy (Kaya Scodelario), she doesn't say a word but it was more about aloofness than anything else. But as the series goes on, she goes from strong to vulnerable, almost recognizable — which stemmed from the life-altering accident her big brother Tony was in. Tony always kept her stable and in his absence, we watch as she completely withdraws, participates in mindless sex and all the drugs (anything she could smoke, snort or swallow), and takes little care of her appearance, symptoms of her depression, which spirals into full-blown psychosis.
This is what they taught us:There's nothing logical about mental illness. It might seem like it's making a person weak but, if anything, it's giving a strong person the chance to show their fight and inner fire.
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Molly Carter, InsecureMolly (Yvonne Orji) is a successful, ambitious, rational lawyer and the last thing you'd expect is for her to suffer from any sort of mental illness. But like with many people out there, she does. And her accomplishments are what drives her into therapy, despite being apprehensive about opening up. But she eventually does and it's kind of comforting to see someone so "normal" confronting her struggles head-on.
This is what they taught us:It's understandable to be afraid of expressing feelings into actual words. But it can be extremely powerful telling someone a secret or burden that's been buried or carried for a long time.
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Hannah Baker and Jessica Davis, 13 Reasons WhyThe first season was a doozy, as it chronicled why Hannah (Katherine Langford) decided to die by suicide. She seemed like any typical teenage girl until we see her journey of humiliation and misery become increasingly horrific and heartbreaking and after witnessing the rape of Jessica (Alisha Boe), Hannah herself is raped. How they each dealt with their assaults was completely different. Hannah could no longer take it and chose suicide; Jessica was completely traumatized and for a while, didn't tell anyone but she eventually revealed the rape to her father and she attended group therapy.
This is what they taught us:There isn't a right way for victims of sexual violence to "be," but the emotional damage can be crippling. Jessica copes by skipping school and partying and drinking, trying to forget about it all, while Hannah does the opposite and withdraws and sinks further into her PTSD and her increasing depression.
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Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, Orange Is the New BlackWhile not always portrayed with sensitivity (and sometimes used for comic relief), the misunderstood Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren (Uzo Aduba) nevertheless quickly became a breakout fan favourite. Suzanne is a loyal, caring friend (she steps up for Piper when nobody else does), even if she is not always socially adept (she was imprisoned for developing a friendship with a child she considered her peer). She herself is child-like and often well-intentioned, but life continues to throw her curveballs; she’s faced parental abandonment, and mental health issues, such as psychosis and delusions. She can be unknowingly inappropriate, intense and unpredictable, and this makes her a target for both mockery and fear. She is a prolific writer and a creative force that becomes a hit with her prison mates when she self-publishes her surrealistic science-fiction erotica series called "The Time Hump Chronicles".
This is what they taught us:Suzanne’s character has inadvertently shined a light on the prejudice and misunderstandings many individuals with mental health issues face within the justice system. She teaches us that it can be difficult to thrive when our circumstances are toxic. Perhaps she would have benefitted from earlier interventions by mental health professionals, rather than being locked away in prison where she continued to face abuse.
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