Is TV Helping To De-Stigmatize Mental Illness?

It’s the time of year when production companies start working on pilots for shows they hope will be picked up to air next year. One such show is “The Quickening,” which will be written by the awesome Jennifer Salt of “Nip/Tuck” and will star the lovely Radha Mitchell as a bipolar detective whose medication stabilizes her mood swings but damages her otherwise brilliant talent for solving the crime. I gotta say that, lately, I’m noticing a lot of shows where the protagonist struggles with mental illness, and I think it’s pretty amazing since it can help people understand and be more accepting of the wide variety of mental illnesses out there. [Variety] Here’s a look at a few heroes with an assortment of mental conditions.

  • On Showtime’s “United States of Tara,” Toni Colette plays wife and mother Tara Gregson who struggles with her job, family and Dissociative Identity Disorder. The disease manifests itself in four distinct personalities with diverse points of view and agendas, often alarming and hilarious at once.
  • The crime comedy “Monk” is named after the savant-like police detective, Adrian Monk. Monk’s obsessive-compulsive disorder hinders his ability to solve cases, since identifying a murderer feels less important to him than reorganizing the messy room the murderer left behind.
  • Last season on “90210,” Silver (Jessica Stroup) started acting a little off and doing things like turning in a sex tape of her and her boyfriend for a school video project. Turns out, she had bi-polar disorder.
  • Jason Alexander is still clearly suffering from depression, as he and Larry David try to reprise his “Seinfeld” character on the current season of “Curb your Enthusiasm.” Does anyone remember if George Costanza was ever officially diagnosed?
  • “Nurse Jackie” features Edie Falco as a nurse with a prescription pill addiction.
  • Ditto for pill-popping with Hugh Laurie on “House.” And while he’s never been officially termed this, he seems an awful lot like a sociopath.
  • David Duchovny is rumored to be a sex addict in real life, as well as on screen in “Californication.” I just hope he doesn’t have to give up his fascinating starring role as a writer who can’t say no to fleshly offers—wait, I’m channeling.
  • This isn’t TV, but “Next to Normal” is on Broadway right now, featuring a heroine who is a housewife with bipolar disorder as well as a song and dance number about electroshock therapy.

What do you think: Do these portrayals of mental illness help or harm?