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Portrayals of Anxiety on Television: Why it Matters
Anxiety, like many other mental illnesses, is a daily struggle for those that suffer from it. It can manifest in a number of ways, including excessive worry, seeking constant reassurance, cautious behavior, and so on. And while these are common manifestations of anxiety, everyone experiences it a bit differently.
When you finally realize anxiety is the culprit of your symptoms, you may wonder – “Am I normal?”, “Is this what other people experience?”, “Why does my anxiety feel different than what others describe?”. These are all valid things to think and feel, no matter how “common” your anxiety symptoms are.
Even though millions around the world are affected by anxiety, it’s still something that many feel ashamed to talk about with others. As an anxiety sufferer myself, I know all too well how it feels to keep my struggles to myself and not share how hard it can be to get through everyday tasks.
It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I fully realized how many people around me were going through similar mental health struggles. Part of my realization came through seeing anxiety portrayed more openly (and accurately) on television and in the media in general.
One show in particular that has explored this topic is the NBC hit drama, This Is Us. The show, which focuses on an American family throughout different stages of their lives, isn’t afraid to touch on serious topics (their most recent season has even incorporated the Black Lives Matter movement).
Randall (played by Sterling K. Brown), who is one of the main characters, deals with anxiety, and the portrayal of how it affects his life is one of the most accurate i’ve seen on modern scripted television. It’s the nuances – the subtle things that the writers incorporate into the script and how well Brown brings them to life on screen that make me feel (and i’m sure many other anxiety sufferers) like i’m truly not alone in this difficult struggle.
Sometimes when I watch the show and notice small things related to Randall’s anxiety, I wonder if they are too small and detailed for people who don’t have anxiety to even notice. One episode, however, it was clear. Randall had a panic attack (something those with anxiety are quite familiar with), and after a carefully filmed scenario leading up it, he ended up on the floor in his office as he slowly felt himself losing control.
The scene is powerful, and when I watched it the night it aired, it made me emotional to see something that I know millions of people deal with, usually in secret or only with their close family. I remember tweeting after watching, expressing how much it meant to see a part of myself and a common mental health struggle shown on a television show that has a very large viewership. Through social media I was able to engage in conversations with people who also found a sense of assurance after watching the episode.
This Is Us is just one example of many shows that are becoming more open to having such real, relatable issues depicted by their characters. It’s important for people to see themselves to know that we are not alone. We are all going through different things and fighting battles that we rarely share.
I hope that this is a trend that continues for television and film (and other forms of media) where everyone, no matter who they are or what they are going through, can see themselves represented. Even when it’s hard to watch, or when there are issues that are hard to confront, we need to remember that it will always be important.