Mental Check In

Shows That Highlight Characters With Mental Illness

Need someone to relate to? The good news is, new TV shows are getting better and better at portraying people of all walks of life, including those of us who struggle with stigmatized mental health disorders.

These shows deserve recognition for portraying mentally characters not as “crazy,” but as complex, nuanced and emotional beings as worthy of study as anyone else.

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Bipolar Disorder (AKA Manic Depression)

Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). – Mayo Clinic

These shows address bipolar disorder through deep characters with varying pasts and varying responses to their diagnoses.

Ruth and Ben in Ozark / E! News


Season 3 of “Ozark” introduces one if its best characters, Ben: Wendy Birde’s younger brother who has long been off and on his medication for bipolar disorder.


CIA officer Carrie Mathison of “Homeland” was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in college.


Both Ian Gallagher and his estranged mother, Monica, live with bipolar disorder. While Ian is initially frightened to be anything like his mother, he soon learns his fear of his diagnosis is based on stigma, not reality.

Anxiety and Depression

Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. [But] people with anxiety disorders have intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. [It] affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living. – Mayo Clinic

These shows take a look into characters with anxiety and depression.

Bojack Horseman / Medium

BoJack Horseman

Two characters in this show have open discussions about their mental illnesses from the get-go: BoJack Horseman and Diane Nguyen both struggle with depression in different ways. In Bojack’s case, these struggles are amplified by his drug addiction and alcoholism.

This Is Us

Randall, Jack and Rebecca’s adopted son, has anxiety. Kate’s husband and Jack’s dad, Toby, has depression.

You’re the Worst

A love story with a dark twist: Gretchen Cutler’s clinical depression makes her already unlikely partnership with Jimmy even more difficult.


Anesthesiologist and all-star mother Rainbow Johnson suffers from postpartum depression after having her fifth baby.


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. – Mayo Clinic

Jessica Jones / Plugged In

Jessica Jones

Former superhero Jessica Jones has PTSD – something that, when you think about it, probably affects a lot of superheroes. But this series makes her mental illness a valid character trait, not a lazy story device.

One Day at a Time

Penelope Alvarez has two beautiful kids, an accomplished resume, and an open battle with PTSD, anxiety and depression.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others. It includes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and a pattern of unstable relationships. – Mayo Clinic

Rebecca Bunch in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend / The Daily Beast

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Rebecca Bunch spends this series moving toward a diagnosis that explains her symptoms (something many of us can relate to!). By the end, it’s revealed that this well-developed character has BPD.


This Netflix series depicts Annie Landsberg, a character with BPD who often dwells on unhealthy relationships.

Cersei and Jaime Lannister

According to the Wikipedia page for BPD, these “Game of Thrones” characters display symptoms consistent with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders.

Catie Housman

Add comment