A while back I talked about how mental illness and therapy are portrayed in various TV shows.

I found this a really interesting post to write and since then, I’ve been particularly impressed by how mental health has been explored in two particular shows. Spoilers ahead – though I’m talking about season 5 of Suits and Star Trek TNG, so I wouldn’t worry too much!

Suits

This may sound strange, but when Harvey started having panic attacks at the start of season 5, I was thrilled. It was great to see a strong, confident man experiencing severe bouts of anxiety, rather than the tired, predictable portrayals I’m used to seeing (Big Bang Theory’s Stuart, I’m looking at you). I think this helps to drive home the point that mental illness can happen to anyone – regardless of wealth, success or any other factors – and remind people that outward appearances can be deceiving.

Harvey Specter having a panic attack

Harvey up until this point had been portrayed as a stoic character who, it could be argued, is not very in touch with his emotions. Problems in his personal life began to take a toll on him however, and his panic attacks frightened him so much that he started seeing a psychiatrist.

In these sessions with Dr Agard, we see him resisting her efforts to help him, as he struggles to be honest with her. She starts to dig a bit deeper and it becomes clear that his current problems stem from much larger, more deep-rooted issues. I’m only a few episodes into the season, but I’m excited to see how this story line develops.

What I liked…

  • Harvey’s honesty with Mike when he tells him he’s having a panic attack.
  • Straight after, when Mike asks if Harvey’s alright, rather than brushing it off, Harvey admits he’s not.
  • The realistic way the panic attacks are portrayed, showing the overwhelming physical symptoms: racing heart, sweating, vomiting. I thought these scenes were very well done.
  • The fact that Dr Agard insists Harvey talks to her, refusing to simply prescribe him medication. One thing I’ve learned is that talking therapies and medication go hand-in-hand, and I’m glad this is being explored on the show.
  • The balance between Harvey being vulnerable, while also still being his usual self. Though I suspect he may continue to unravel and I’m interested to see where the show takes him, at the moment I like that he’s struggling, while still being high-functioning. It’s a realistic portrayal of what many people go through each day, and the way the anxiety is slowly creeping its way into his life and affecting his work as he tries to keep afloat is very relatable.
  • The way it showed that therapy isn’t an instant fix. My heart sank when Harvey triumphantly threw his medication away, because I thought the writers were just using the panic attacks as a one-off dramatic device. I’m so glad the therapist didn’t just say a few magic words and instantly ‘fix’ him. It’s much more realistic that he didn’t experience an immediate breakthrough and again, I’m excited to see how his experiences continue to develop his character.

…and what I didn’t

  • The ‘mind-reading therapist’ trope. When Dr Agard told him, ‘I had you pegged from the moment you walked in’ I have to admit I rolled my eyes slightly.
  • Dr Agard’s openness with Harvey. Some of what she divulges to him and the poker game they have later on didn’t really ring true to me, but then again, I’m not a psychiatrist, so who knows?
  • This hasn’t happened yet, so it’s possibly unfair to put it in the dislikes column, but I have a feeling they will end up dating and I really hope they don’t.

The verdict

I’m a big fan of Suits and absolutely love Harvey as a character, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how he continues to try and overcome his anxiety. I sincerely hope he doesn’t just end up in a relationship with Donna (or Dr Agard!) and that’s the end of his panic attacks. I’m so sick of the ‘love fixes everything, even mental illness’ rubbish we see so much in films and TV shows.

Very important scientific side-note:

Would you just look at him? *Inserts a million heart eyes emojis*

Harvey Specter GIF

Star Trek: The Next Generation

I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek since I was a kid. Everyone knows it’s always been ahead of its time in many ways, but I’ve started to notice recently that it was also ahead of its time in the way it tackled ‘difficult’ subjects like suicide and grief, while normalising the idea of seeing a counsellor.

What I liked…

  • The fact the Enterprise not only had a ship’s counsellor, but that she was an integral part of the bridge crew and a close confidant of the captain. It’s a shame this wasn’t a role that the other Star Trek franchises had.
  • The episode ‘Hero Worship’, in which a young boy attempts to avoid confronting the grief of losing his parents by ‘becoming’ an android and mimicking Data’s mannerisms. With Troi’s guidance, Data forms a strong bond with the child and helps him work through his feelings slowly rather than avoiding them.
  • The episodes following Picard’s assimilation into the Borg collective, as he tries to cope with his trauma and readjust to life back on the Enterprise.
  • The episode where Troi has to help her mother uncover repressed memories of the child she lost. This is all done very symbolically, with Troi delving into her mother’s Betazoid psyche to try and understand the self-preservation mechanisms her mind has put in place. Look out for a very young Kirsten Dunst!
  • Troi as a character. I always admired her integrity, compassion and empathic abilities.
  • Voyager also had a couple of great episodes, my favourite being ‘Extreme Risk’. After finding out all her Maquis friends are dead, B’Elanna starts to deal with her grief in unhealthy ways, such as taking part in extreme holodeck programs with the safety controls off.

…and what I didn’t

  • Nothing! Unless there are any episodes I’ve forgotten about (please comment if so!), as far as I’m concerned, any episodes that dealt with mental health, grief or suicide did so cleverly and sensitively.

Side-notes:

  • Deanna had the most incredible curls and was very much the envy of my frizzy-haired nine year old self.
  • I adore both of these kick-ass ladies and their friendship.

Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher

And a cheeky but very special mention to…Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I could (and probably will) fill an entire blog post with reasons I adore this show – go and watch it, now! It’s funny, relatable and moving in equal measures, and I promise you will fall in love with Rebecca Bunch.

Rebecca Bunch

If you want to watch any of the shows I’ve mentioned, they’re all available on Netflix. You’re welcome.

If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen that I’ve started a new chat for people who have experience with emetophobia. #ChatEmet takes place on Tuesdays at 7pm (GMT) and is a safe space for sufferers to share their story and discuss ‘Cure your Emetophobia and Thrive’ by Rob Kelly.

In the first chat we discussed our recent ‘wins’. A win is a breakthrough, no matter how small. It’s something you might have thought your emetophobia would never let you do. I would like to hear your wins – tell me what you’re proud of. Because you should feel ridiculously proud of yourself. Emetophobia is a terrible, debilitating phobia that had me starving myself and washing my hands until they cracked and bled. I want you to know that I understand and I’m so proud of you, even in those times when you think you’ve failed. Most importantly, I want you to know that you’re not alone. 

To get us started, here are some of my recent emetophobia wins. There will be a few OCD ones in there too, as for me the two issues overlap.

Eating chicken

Cooking chicken at home became a huge no-no for me and I would only eat it in restaurants on very rare occasions. I’m still a little bit nervous about eating it, but I’ve let friends cook it for me and am very partial to a cheeky Nando’s.

Washing my hands less

I still wash my hands more than the average bear but nowhere near to the extent I was before. Emetophobia Help was such a useful resource for me, especially for putting things into perspective when it came to norovirus.

Understanding the ways the virus can and can’t be transmitted, and that some of my safety behaviours were actually completely useless really helped me feel calmer. I quickly found it easier to ignore irrational thoughts.

Using the word ‘norovirus’

One of the strange things about emetophobia is how superstitious it can make you. Even though logically I knew it wasn’t possible, I had this strange belief that writing or saying the word norovirus would make me sick. I had little ‘knock on wood’ rituals and was very particular about the language I used when discussing anything to do with illness. Now though, when my brain tells me I’m being irrational, I listen to it. No more censoring myself!

I did the deed!

Yes, that’s right – I vomited. Three times in the last six months to be exact. And do you know what? I just got on with it. I stayed calm, cleaned up after myself and dealt with it how I think most people would. The first time it happened, that little bit of exposure helped me see that it’s actually not so bad, and gave me confidence in myself again. So when it happened again the next morning, I handled it just fine. SO. BLOODY. PROUD.

Have you experienced emetophobia? I am starting a new chat for people with emetophobia to share their experiences and discuss the book ‘Cure Your Emetophobia and Thrive‘ by Rob Kelly.

The first one will be taking place on Tuesday 5th September and will be a chance to introduce yourself and talk about how the chats are going to go.

I’m not planning on asking set questions, so it won’t be quite like other Twitter chats. Instead, I’ll get the conversation started and then help to keep it flowing.

A couple of things to bear in mind:

  • #ChatEmet is not a substitute for counselling or any other medical treatment. We’re not experts; we’re just here to share our experiences and discuss the book.
  • Please be mindful of the language you use. Some sufferers are triggered by words relating to vomiting. At the start of each chat I’d like everyone to say what they’re comfortable with so we can all work together to make it a safe space.
  • Please don’t be embarrassed. This is a safe, supportive space. We are all in the same boat and we’re here to help each other. At no point will anyone make you feel silly.
  • That said, there are always trolls online, so you have my promise that I will do all I can to deflect any negative comments.
  • I want your feedback! If you want to do anything differently, please let me know. This is all for you – I’m just here to get the ball rolling and act as a moderator of sorts.

I look forward to chatting to you on 5th September. Let’s tackle emetophobia together!

The wonderful Ross and Becky who run the Twitter chat #askrossandbecky are hosting their first ever event on September 9th.

#MHunch will be at Liverpool ONE and promises to be a great chance to meet fellow bloggers and mental health advocates.

I’m gutted I won’t be able to make this one, but Ross and Becky are planning to make these meetups a regular thing, so I’m sure I’ll have plenty of other opportunities!

If you’d like more information about the event, get in touch with Ross or Becky and be sure to check out their fab blogs!

These guys are two of my absolute Twitter faves and 100% the kindest, most supportive people I’ve had the pleasure of coming across. I’m so proud to call them my friends. If you’re not following them already, you should be!

 

 

Ahead of my #TalkMH chat this Thursday, I wanted explore two of my favourite TV shows and look at how they portray mental illness.

Gilmore girls

As much as I hate to say it, because GG is my absolute favourite TV show, I strongly dislike how it portrays therapy.

In season 6, episode 11 (‘The Perfect Dress’), Rory is asked to attend therapy following her recent time away from college. From Lorelai’s initial reaction (‘I can’t believe you’re going to a therapist’ followed by a joke about the old cliché of therapists asking about your mother) to the actual session itself, nothing in this episode is handled sensitively at all.

The scene itself is an absolute farce, starting with Rory’s obvious disdain towards her therapist and ending with over-the-top crying. It makes me cringe every time.

Rory Gilmore crying

Afterwards, she calls Lorelai and opens with, ‘Guess who’s crazy?’

Huh.

I’ll forgive it though, because this episode first aired back in 2005 and let’s be honest, Gilmore girls was never particularly PC.

Fast-forward to 2016 though, and we have the revival episodes. *Warning: Spoilers ahead!*

Sigh. Where to start?

I had high hopes when Lorelai sensitively suggested Emily see a professional to help her through her grief. But then we get to the therapist who seems alright at first, but quickly becomes more and more ridiculous.

Firstly, can we talk about the obvious frustration and lack of empathy she shows when she’s rushing them out of their sessions?

And then, when she turns up in Stars Hollow (I’m sorry, why?!), bounds up to Lorelai (so unprofessional!!) and announces she’s auditioning for the musical, I couldn’t stop myself from sighing. So we’re supposed to believe that Emily and Lorelai were such difficult clients they drove her to give up her career as a therapist in favour of performing in small town musical? Sure. That makes sense.

Girl rolling her eyes

I feel like the therapy was used more as a comedic device than to drive the plot. Case in point: the infamous letter that Emily mentions to Lorelai that never comes up again. I’m not saying therapy can’t or shouldn’t be portrayed in a funny way, I just think the humour here missed the mark. And I was disappointed that we didn’t see the whole thing handled more sensitively.

That said, I liked that Lorelai continued to go by herself, and ultimately her sessions did lead her to somewhat of an epiphany about her own life.

Overall though, not impressed.

The Big Bang Theory

Now, I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.

I know a lot of people don’t particularly like how Sheldon’s OCD is portrayed but personally I can relate a lot to him.

The rituals (knocking three times), the obsessive need for closure and to an extent his cleanliness, all struck a chord with me.

Sheldon knocking on the door

This is perfectly illustrated in season 7, episode 8 (‘The Itchy Brain Simulation’), when Sheldon likens his need for closure to an ‘itch on his brain’ that leaves him feeling uncomfortable and anxious. I can’t think of a better way to describe OCD. He urges Leonard to walk a mile in his shoes by wearing an itchy jumper. OCD is so difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it, so I think it’s particularly clever that Sheldon suggests mimicking it with a physical sensation.

Though Leonard gains a better understanding of his friend’s struggles, he still teases him and calls him crazy. Rather than taking offense though, I applaud the show’s accuracy. It’s been my experience that people often can’t relate, so Leonard’s lack of understanding rang true with me.

In another episode, Sheldon’s girlfriend Amy tries to help him overcome his OCD, by encouraging him to start various tasks without finishing them. Challenging his compulsive need to see everything through is very difficult for Sheldon and I really related to his struggle. The strain is visible on his face and the episode ends with him doing the tasks again, this time to completion.

While some could argue that The Big Bang Theory stigmatises OCD, I would personally disagree. I think it’s great that the show is helping to ‘normalise’ OCD and bring it into the mainstream. More than that, I like that it doesn’t just focus on cleanliness, as of course there’s so much more to it than that. Anything that helps more people realise this is a good thing in my book.

It’s not always a perfect representation, but I find it relatable and at times very sensitively handled.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. If you can’t make it to the chat (this Thursday 13th April at 8:30pm) please feel free to tweet me, or leave a comment below.