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.

Mr. Robot – 1.9 eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt

Let’s be honest, if you’ve watched Mr Robot you’ll know how much of a roller coaster ride it is from the very beginning.  But the penultimate episode of season 1 is where so many things that have been building up throughout the series come to a head.  Shit gets real guys.  And when Maxence Cyrin’s beautiful piano cover of Where is my Mind plays at the end (a cheeky little nod to Fight Club) I get goose-bumps every time.  That scene between Elliot and Tyrell is a perfect climax to all the tension that’s been building up between them.  Ugh, perfection.

arcade

Star Trek (The Original Series): Operation: Annihilate!

The crew take on a weird race of parasitic aliens that happen to look remarkably like pancakes.  So much so that I successfully found out the name of the episode by searching ‘Star Trek pancake alien episode.’  A childhood favourite.

pancake alien

Friends – The One with the Two Parties

It’s so hard to narrow Friends down to just one favourite episode, and of course for a soppy old romantic like me, the Monica and Chandler proposal might seem like an obvious choice.  Another solid contender was The One with the Video Tape, as it’s so cleverly done.  But I actually chose a slightly more serious episode as I feel like it handled Rachel’s struggle with her parents’ divorce really nicely.  We have a touching moment of bonding between her and Chandler, and I melt when he gently moves Rachel from his arms into Ross’.  So sweet and lovely.  Plus the logistics of the two parties and trying to keep Rachel’s parents from running into each other makes for some great comedy.  Also, this beautiful moment:

Joey kiss Mrs Green

Gilmore girls – Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting

Again, it’s impossible to narrow it down to just one episode.  I’ve chosen this one for three reasons:

  • Friday night dinner. This is so well-done, and I feel like the director let himself get really creative with this scene.  It’s over the top, almost theatrically so, but the dialogue as always is fast-paced and witty.  Plus the POV camera angles put you right into the chaos of all the different arguments going on at once.  It’s an interesting technique used to great effect for the first time in this episode, and never again after.friday nights
  • Lorelai’s fantastic and (for some reason) British impression of her mother. ‘Alert the corgis!’ Makes me laugh every time.
  • Emily: I only wished I’d remembered to call her a cocktail waitress.
    Lorelai: [gasping] Oooh. That’s my mother’s version of the ‘c’ word.

The Office – The Job

I think this pretty much sums it up.

office11

The emotion.  Dreamy sigh.

A close second would be the episode where Jim enlists a friend to masquerade as him and convince Dwight that Jim’s been Asian all along.  I love all of Jim’s pranks on Dwight, but that has to be my favourite.

funny-gif-Asian-Jim-The-Officefunny-gif-Jim-portrait-Asianfunny-gif-portrait-prank-Asian

Parks and Recreation – Halloween Surprise

Because I had to get a proposal episode in here somewhere and this is undoubtedly one of the best.

proposal

LOST – Man of Science, Man of Faith

Our first look down the mysterious hatch.  THE NUMBERS!  So much intrigue.  This is easily one of my favourite episodes of LOST, though I was originally going to go with the episode where Jin and Sun die.  But I didn’t because, y’know, I’m not a monster.

Jin and Sun

No YOU’RE crying.

Brooklyn Nine Nine – Halloween II

Jake attempts to pull off another Halloween heist, this time the Captain’s priceless watch.  A clever episode with a fun twist.

deuce

Star Trek Voyager – Twisted

I don’t know why but this episode has always been a favourite of mine.  A strange phenomenon wreaks havoc with the ship and turns it into a weird twisting labyrinth.

Voyager twisted

Sabrina the Teenage Witch – Pancake Madness

I’m ending this list on an absolute high, obviously.  I can’t decide what makes this episode so great, whether it’s the ridiculous song about pancakes being the answer to the riddle (which I’m physically incapable of stopping myself from singing when I eat pancakes), Harvey’s terrible singing of said song, or the giant syrup bottle Sabrina hallucinates when she’s having pancake withdrawals.  Oh yes, that’s right, the premise of this episode is Sabrina developing a crack-like addiction to pancakes (those pancakey bastards up to no good again!).  Also, the syrup bottle’s name is Mrs Mapleton.  10/10.  Absolute genius.  Watch now.

pancake madness