In recent years, mental health as a topic and as an illness has become more socially acceptable. However, the acknowledgement of mental health struggles in the black community has lagged behind due to the combination of an unwillingness to address the unknown in our own community and an unfortunate tradition of dismissing mental health as a legitimate effect of actions, leading to lack of care for Black Americans in particular – also known as systemic racism.
2020 has brought a pandemic and social justice movement and, as a result, the discussion of mental health in the black community has ramped up. More black professionals and celebrities are starting to share stories about their own struggles. Mental health as a whole is becoming more of a national hot topic and something to take into consideration before heavy criticism and judgment is placed on individuals. I’ve decided to highlight a few black characters on television who attempt to represent what the battle of mental health in the black community looks like for some.
Randall Pearson: This Is Us
Anxiety is suffered by 18% (roughly 40 million) of Americans in the US, yet only 36% of those suffering from anxiety seek treatment. In 2017, NBC’s This Is Us introduced the world to a loving family that could and did rip the heart out of your chest with a few lines of dialogue. One of the “kids” in particular, Randall (Sterling K. Brown), was eventually revealed to suffer from crippling anxiety and, as we also found out, his dad suffered from anxiety, too. By the end of the latest season, Randall finally has finally sought treatment through therapy to decrease panic attacks rooted in his tendency to ignore intense things happening in his life.
Tiffany DuBois: Insecure
Postpartum Depression (PDD) occurs in approximately 10-20% of new mothers. In the recently aired final episode of HBO’s Insecure, friends of Tiffany (Amanda Seales), along with her husband, spend a majority of the day and night retracing the steps of the prim and proper new mom. What they find at the end of their search is a woman who’s broken down, exhausted and searching for her own happiness again. Perhaps in the next season we’ll learn more about how to get through PPD by watching new parents Tiffany and Derek (Wade Allain-Marcus) go through group and couples therapy, which is a highly encouraged form of treatment.
Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren: Orange is the New Black
Although it’s not specifically clarified in Orange Is the New Black, many think that Suzanne (Uzo Aduba) suffers from borderline personality disorder (BPD), which ultimately led to her unfortunate incarceration. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 75% of people diagnosed with the illness are women. Suzanne first gained attention in the series by having an unhealthy obsession with Litchfield’s newest inmate, Piper (Taylor Schilling), often going to extremes to make sure that she always held her attention and wasn’t abandoned by her – a symptom similar to BPD. Treatment for this includes multiple forms of therapy along with medications that are specifically chosen and prescribed by a doctor.
Davionte “GaTa” Ganter: Dave
One show that has recently caught my attention is the major tongue-in-cheek Lil’ Dicky series on FX, Dave. Viewers watch an ambitious, D-list, white, Jewish rapper clunkily make his way through the music industry in a series of on-brand situations. However, in a twist of tone for the series, the depth of not only the show, but also for the hype man, GaTa (GaTa), changes as it is revealed that he has bipolar disorder. Around 2.2% of the American population, equal to over five million individuals, suffer from this form of mental illness. In the show, Dave/Lil’ Dicky (Dave Burd) and a friend are alerted to GaTa’s illness by the drastic high and low energy they witness during rehearsals within a short amount of time. Similar to borderline personality disorder, this long-term illness cannot be cured, however, multiple forms of therapy and medication can stabilize and ultimately help an individual live their very best.
Source: Treatment Advocacy Center
In light of recent events in the news and online regarding black celebrities and mental health, it is imperative that more representation for all marginalized groups dealing with these issues continue to carefully and accurately be portrayed on screen. It’s also important to keep in mind that any forms of recommended treatments come with their own set of possible side effects and other issues that aren’t always addressed in the media. Hopefully, by opening up this topic through a medium in which we all ingest content, more conversations about mental health will lead to better understanding and empathy for members of the black community who deal with this on a daily basis. For all of the black mental health storylines that will be added to television in the future, the ultimate goal should always be that the promise of representation on screen brings forth a new wave of comfort and consciousness – someone knows your story and you’re not alone.
We would love to hear from you. In your opinion, are these good representations? Do you have any others that you would add? Let us know in the comments below or on any of our socials.
If you, or someone you know, would like more mental health information or resources for BIPOC, visit this National Alliance of Mental Health.
This article was originally published on 8/18/20