Mental Health Awards 2020: TV shows that changed the way we talk about mental health

Posted by for Life

From anxiety to postnatal depression, Stylist is spotlighting a year of TV shows that portrayed mental health issues in the most accurate and compassionate way. 

This article will be updated throughout Mental Health Awareness Week to include new titles, so please keep checking back daily to find out which TV shows from the past 12 months have changed the way we talk about mental health.

In the bad old days, we never spoke publicly about mental health. Physical ailments could be explained, understood, and sympathised over – but the stigma around anxiety and depression made it far more difficult for people to open up.

Nowadays, things are different: the formerly taboo topic is now something that we recognise can affect anyone, at any time – and this, in turn, has encouraged us to be far more empathetic and understanding about the plights of others.

Still, though, it can be difficult to find an accurate and compassionate representation of mental health issues on TV. And that’s why, for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, Stylist’s Under Her Eye team decided to look back over the biggest television shows of the past 12 months, in order to celebrate those that “got it right”.

“In lockdown, TV is a bigger deal than ever before,” says Stylist’s digital editor-at-large Kayleigh Dray. “As the nation stays home, viewing levels are soaring. And, thanks to the likes of Tiger King, Normal People, and The Nest, households are now watching an average of five hours more television each week.

“That’s why now, more than ever, we’re so keen to celebrate those TV shows that depict mental illness in a realistic and humanising way.”

Normal People
Households are watching an average of five hours more television each week in lockdown.

Stylist’s entertainment director Helen Bownass adds: “The shows we have chosen are ones that represent mental health authentically, with nuance – rejecting outdated stereotypes and changed the conversation. 

“We have chosen comedies, documentaries, love stories, and animations because there is no one size fits all when it comes to mental health it affects everyone.

“Seeing it through different lenses is vital.”

Throughout Mental Health Awareness Week, we will be spotlighting five shows from the past 12 months that haven’t just provided us with an accurate and compassionate portrayal of important mental health issues: they’ve broken down barriers and encouraged us to talk, really talk, about everything from post-partum psychosis to depression, too.

Stylist’s Mental Health Awards: the TV shows that changed the way we talk about mental health

This list will be updated throughout Mental Health Awareness Week, so please do keep checking back for more titles.

  • Normal People

    Normal People: Connell male depression

    BBC Three’s critically-acclaimed entire series, Normal People, deals with a number of important themes, including loss, loneliness, and consent.

    It is the final three episodes, though, which have been praised for their careful and realistic handling of men’s mental health.

    You can find out more here.

  • Louis Theroux: Mothers On The Edge

    louis theroux

    Some 1-2 in 1,000 women experience postpartum psychosis (PP) after childbirth. However, it’s a condition which is hardly ever spoken about.

    In a bid to tackle the hugely damaging stigma around PP, Louis Theroux decided to shine a light on maternal mental health in his BBC documentary, Mothers On The Edge.

    You can find out more here.

  • BoJack Horseman

    BoJack Horseman: Diane's depression

    BoJack Horseman might be a cartoon, but the Netflix show has been praised for its careful handling of heavy topics around addiction and mental health.

    However, while most focus on the show’s eponymous character, there’s no doubt in our minds that Diane (Alison Brie)’s struggles with situational depression is by far more powerful.

    You can find out more here.

  • Nadiya: Anxiety & Me

    Nadiya Hussain
    Mental health quotes: Nadiya Hussain on anxiety

    Anxiety affects more than 8 million people in the UK – making it the most common form of mental illness. Despite its prevalence and highly treatable nature, there has long been a deep-rooted stigma around the condition, making it difficult for many to talk about it.

    In her critically-acclaimed documentary, though, Bake Off’s Nadiya Hussain made a point of opening up about the severity of her condition and tackling it head-on.

    You can find out more about the programme here

  • This Way Up

    Aisling Bea TV shows
    Aisling Bea in This Way Up

    This Way Up by Aisling Bea is an astultely observed and properly funny comedy about a young woman recovering from a nervous breakdown. 

    It’s quietly revolutionary in that it’s not a show not about someone falling apart but about someone trying to put their life back together. It’s about getting stuck into the hard graft of recovery and finding hope. Read more about it here.

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Getty/BBC/Netflix

Share this article

Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray