Mental illness affects one in five people in any given year. But despite its prevalence, it’s not often talked about, and seldom understood. In recent years, that’s starting to change. Storytellers are feeling more empowered to deal with mental health more openly, and streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu are allowing a wider variety of storytellers to come in and share.
As we go through this list, there’s something incredibly important to note here – everyone experiences mental illness differently. Nobody checks the laundry list of symptoms to the letter. And even depictions of mental illness that are lacking in subtlety or nuance can make people feel a little less alone. We didn’t include Big Bang Theory on this list, but we definitely know people on the autism spectrum who have found comfort in it. Similarly, the show Monk isn’t as deft a portrayal of obsessive-compulsive disorder as one might expect today, but it did at least get an often-misunderstood illness on peoples’ radars, and encourage people to seek help.
If you have one of the diagnoses that we’re looking at, some of these characters may not look exactly like you. There’s a world of online debate over whether the family in This Is Us is unrealistically supportive, or whether the family in Parenthood is selfish in their attempts to be supportive. But the general movement towards portraying these illnesses honestly – and towards letting characters who have them be more than just a list of symptoms someone pulled off of a manual – is helping us have more productive conversations than we’ve ever had before. Here are some of our favorites.