According to the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a “25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide.” They said it was a wake-up call to the 90% of countries that included “mental health and psychosocial support in their Covid-19 response plans.” The WHO claims that more strides still need to be made in this area.
As we all hunkered down at home, binging the almost infinite TV show options became a major part of our entertainment, along with “visiting” with people via computer screens, whether for business or personal reasons. The use of media in this way allowed for a personal connection.
Three years later, binging television shows is still in full swing, and mental health is prevalent on screen. Therapy and psychological issues play roles in shows streaming right now. Many of these shows also portray Jewish characters, either as the ones undergoing the struggles or as their support system. We know that seeing Jewish characters in pop culture is important, and so is having therapy represented and normalized. In the real world, secular Jews have been open to therapy, but it is still not always openly discussed or accepted. Ted Lasso, starring Jason Sudeikis, and Jewish actor Brett Goldstein, has brought mental health to the forefront of many discussions, and even to the White House.
Three other shows in particular focus on mental health from the perspective of the patient. The whole premise of Dead to Me is established because of a meeting at a grief support group. While none of the main characters are Jewish, Ed Asner played a small role in the first season. The show was created by Liz Feldman who said, “I want people to feel things,” in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. After the grief of the pandemic, she wanted a place where people could see and feel grief. Overall, it is enlightening to see therapy becoming the norm for certain television characters, even within very outlandish circumstances.
Ginny and Georgia is the tale of a very unconventional mother raising two children, including her teen daughter Ginny. The portrayal of Ginny’s repetitive self-harm (without showing the actual act) was very inspired. According to The Newport Academy, “25% of young people engage in self-harm.” They elaborate to say that teens use self-harm “as an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with difficult emotions.” In the show, Dr. Lily prescribes coping skills in the way of a rubber band to snap and a journal, so that Ginny has tangible tools to use to avoid self-harm, while still working through it in therapy. So much is made of coping skills in the real world, but to see real examples on TV is powerful.
While the main characters are not Jewish, their neighbors across the street, and another friend, appear to be. Neighbor and sometimes boyfriend, Marcus, makes a quick appearance while his mom hosts a Hanukkah dinner as she calls the latkes “lit.” Marcus too has mental health issues stemming from the death of a friend we never met. His parents openly refer to his medication and therapy, and give him medication on screen. This normalizes another stigma which is necessary medication and its positive effects.
In Fleishman is in Trouble, liver specialist Toby’s life is upended as a result of his ex-wife’s psychological troubles, even though he doesn’t know it yet. The show slowly reveals what caused her difficulties and seems to offer a resolution. But in between, the viewers get to see Rachel Fleishman, played by Claire Danes, hit rock bottom in a captivating performance. Toby is Jewish, and takes Rachel to Shabbat dinner with his family while they are dating. There are many Jewish references in the show, making it a joy to watch. Rachel shares that one of her parents was Jewish; the notion of such a special Friday night dinner appears to be a novelty to her. Postpartum depression in the real world, as well as PTSD, are prevalent, and starting to be talked about more. Hopefully this continues the discussion.
Other shows focus on the actual therapists’ lives as well. The Patient portrays a very unreal circumstance, but despite that, seems to feature a very caring and intentional Jewish psychiatrist (played by Steve Carell) trying to provide services to save his patient and hopefully himself. The doctor-patient relationship is taken out of the office, and can not be judged using normal parameters.
Stutz, a documentary featuring Jonah Hill and his eponymous psychiatrist, tries to give a glimpse into what therapy is like. It portrays some conversations between the two of them, which are not actually counseling sessions, but with the cameras rolling it is understandable. They do share the benefits and some qualities of a therapy session, and again normalize it with the use of a celebrity. Jonah Hill has been open about his struggles with anxiety.
In Shrinking, featuring breakout TV star Harrison Ford, Jason Segal plays a therapist going through his own personal grief experience, while trying to help his patients as well. Several of the actors were raised Jewish and/or have Jewish parents. The premise of this show involves the therapist giving his patients advice instead of helping them come to their own solutions, but it makes for an interesting and entertaining premise. It does allude to the fact that not all therapy has to involve someone serious staring back at you and asking, “And how does that make you feel?”
Frasier will soon be back on TV, with the psychiatrist living in a new city, presumably resuming his radio role. We will have to see how he deals with the “tossed salads and scrambled eggs” of a new generation. Maybe his son, who had his on-air Bar Mitzvah the first time around, will make an appearance as well.
Anxiety. Depression. Grief.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Postpartum Depression. Schizophrenia.
These and more are what too many people suffer from, sometimes without knowing it, without support, and without access to help. Hopefully seeing these issues play out in a familiar media such as a television show with beloved performers, will make all people, Jewish or not, ask for help, or reach out to offer some.
Rachel Teichman holds a BA in Visual Arts, along with a minor in Psychology. Her MBA led to her start her own businesses and to work in PR. She has written for TC Jewfolk, Kveller, The Buzz Magazines and Texas Living Magazine. She is the author of B is for Bagel and D is for Donut. For more information, please visit www.craftsncrumbs.com or @craftsandcrumbs.