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Mental Health Awareness Day: 10 shows that depict the reality of mental illness

If you haven’t seen these shows, you’re missing out!

tv feature
Nicky Morris
TV and film writer
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Today is Mental Health Awareness Day and to mark the occasion, we’ve put together a list of some of the best shows that accurately depict mental illness. 

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There’s no doubt that more shows are tackling the theme of mental health, but they don’t always get it right. Many shows have been criticised for their portrayal of mental health, with characters who reinforce damaging and unrelatable stereotypes. 

WATCH: You can watch Normal People on BBC iPlayer now

As mental health becomes an increasingly prevalent topic, it’s important that the experience of those with mental health problems are truly represented on the small screen. Here is a list of TV shows that give an accurate and well-rounded portrayal of mental illness. 

Normal People 

Available on BBC iPlayer

Normal People garnered a huge amount of attention when it hit our screens in the summer of 2020, and launched the Hollywood careers of stars Paul Mescal (The Deceived) and Daisy Edgar-Jones (Cold Feet)

This critically-acclaimed series deals with a number of important themes, including loss, loneliness and mental health. 

The show has received particular praise for its realistic portrayal of men’s mental health issues as the show sees Connell (Paul Mescal) struggle with depression. 

normal peopl© Photo: BBC

Normal People has been praised for its portrayal men's mental health

BoJack Horseman 

Available on Netflix

BoJack Horseman has been widely praised for its nuanced and honest depiction of the realities of mental illness. Dubbed "the most important animated series since The Simpsons" by Time Magazine, the show follows the titular Bojack, a washed-up 90s sitcom star, as he struggles with his declining popularity, depression, addiction and maintaining relationships.

The show explores BoJack’s mental state and the causes of his self-destructive behaviour without offering a solution. The series also addresses toxic relationships and antidepressants in an authentic way. It’s definitely worth a watch.

bo_jack_z© Photo: Netflix

BoJack Horseman is available on Netflix

This Way Up 

Available on All 4

This BAFTA-winning comedy-drama is written by and stars Aisling Bea as Áine, a young teacher living in London and recovering from a nervous breakdown. The show follows Áine as she attempts to put her life back together with the help of her concerned sister Shona, played by Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe, Pulling).

The show is both funny and moving and has been praised for its raw depiction of mental health. If you haven’t seen it yet, then go and check out both seasons!

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this way up© Photo: Channel 4

The show stars Aisling Bea and Sharon Horgan

After Life

Available on Netflix 

This black comedy-drama has been praised for shining a light on grief and depression.  Created by and starring Ricky Gervais, the show follows the life of journalist Tony Johnson whose life is thrown into despair after losing his wife to cancer. 

The show is a clever mix of humour and poignancy, and with the new series expected to arrive sometime next year, it’s a great time to catch up on the first and second season. 

after_life_z© Photo: Netflix

The dark comedy shines a light on grief on depression


Available on BBC iPlayer

Another excellent comedy-drama series that cleverly depicts mental illness is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag. The show has received widespread acclaim from critics for its clever and witty writing, but also its poignancy. 

The show follows a young woman, known only as Fleabag, as she navigates life and love in London while trying to cope with tragedy. 

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fleabag© Photo: BBC

Fleabag has won multiple awards

This Is Us

Available on Amazon Prime

This Is Us is a drama television series which follows the lives of siblings Kevin, Kate, and Randall, played by Justin Hartley, Chrissy Metz and Sterling K. Brown respectively, and their parents Jack and Rebecca Pearson, played by Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore.

The portrayal of mental illness through the character of Randall has been met with widespread praise from critics and fans alike. The show highlights Randall’s ongoing struggle with panic attacks and anxiety, as well as themes of addiction and grief through other characters. 

this_is_us_z© NBC

The drama is available on Amazon Prime


Available on All4

Based on the book of the same name, the comedy drama series stars Charly Clive as 24-year-old Marnie who has a specific form of OCD called Pure O which manifests as invasive and distressing intrusive thoughts. In Marnie’s case, those intrusive thoughts are inappropriate sexual visions. 

The series follows Marnie as she seeks to diagnose her condition and shines a light on this particular form of OCD. 

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pure© Photo: Channel 4

Pure addresses the reality of living with OCD

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 

Available on Netflix

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a musical comedy-drama that follows Rachel Bloom as Rebecca Bunch, a young woman who gives up her successful life as a real-estate lawyer at a top law firm in New York in an attempt to find love and happiness in California. 

The show has garnered wide praise for its handling of mental illness. It follows Rebecca as she seeks a diagnosis for her behaviours and explores her attitudes towards mental health after she is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

crazy ex gf© The CW

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is available on Netflix

The Queen’s Gambit

Available on Netflix

The Queen’s Gambit follows young chess prodigy Beth Harmon (played by Anya Taylor-Joy, Split, Emma), and her quest to become a star chess player while grappling with addiction and mental illness. 

The miniseries depicts how isolating mental illness can be as Beth denies offers of friendship, but ultimately shows that accepting help is the best way to succeed in life. 

The show was very well received, winning 11 Emmy’s and two Golden Globe Awards, so it’s well worth a watch.

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anya taylor joy© Photo: Netflix

The Queen's Gambit is available on Netflix

Big Mouth

Available on Netflix

Big Mouth is an animated series that centres on teenage friends and the wonders and horrors of puberty. The show has been praised for its frank depiction of mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety. Big Mouth brings these feelings to life through characters, such as the Depression Kitty, a giant purple cat who likes to berate character Jessi (played by Jessi Klein) with depressing thoughts. 

The comedy series handles the topic with care and compassion while avoiding harmful stereotypes.

big_mouth_z© Photo: Netflix

Big Mouth addresses mental health with compassion

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