How Animation Is Starting A New Conversation On Mental Illness

How Animation Is Starting A New Conversation On Mental Illness

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Depression. Despite being a ubiquitously glib term used for "sad people" all around the world, few have a firm idea of what it truly means to be depressed. In order to clarify an often misunderstood condition, creative innovators have turned to animation to show the true reality of living with depression.

When it comes to portraying depression, getting it right can be difficult. After all, "sadness" and "depression" are often treated as synonymous terms. Typically, when depression is shown in television, and film, it is treated as brief sadness, an extension of a catalytic moment in a character's life, which is then "fixed" at some point. Think the Grinch after his heart grew three sizes; or the depressed are shown as eternally dour individual like Eeyore. These two common portrayals of depression fail to take into account the true breadth of the condition, that without proper treatment is difficult to live with and recover from, and create a mentality amongst people that view such glib portrayals of depression that the condition is a "mental state" rather than an illness. Fortunately, there are writers -- like Dan Harmon, Justin Roiland, and Raphael Bob-Waksberg -- who have been able to recently portray and demonstrate grounded, realistic, takes on depression, albeit in surrealistic animated television.

The premise of Raphael Bob-Waksberg's Netflix series, BoJack Horseman, is ridiculous in nature. The series follows an anthropomorphic horse, BoJack Horseman, who happens to suffer from depression. The world that BoJack inhabits is equally implausible, populated by humans and humanized animals. At a cursory level, it seems unlikely that a show that features a talking dog named Mr. Peanutbutter, a fictionalized Los Angeles where the 'D' from the Hollywood sign has been stolen (resulting in everyone referring to the town as "Hollywoo") and a still-living J.D. Salinger creating a Hollywood game show entitled Hollywoo Stars: What Do They Know?: Do They Know Things?: Let’s Find Out! would provide an appropriate outlet for discussing the nuances of the nature of depression. However, it is revealed through the absurdity of the setting of BoJack Horseman, the relatability and humanity of the titular character.

Much like a phoenix who rises from the ashes, throughout the two seasons of the show, BoJack Horseman (voiced by Will Arnett), a drunken misanthropic former sitcom star, puts his life back together. By the second season of the show, BoJack has everything that he has ever wanted, a girlfriend, respect, and a starring role in his dream movie, and yet still is not happy -- as evidenced in this exchange between Mr. Peanutbutter and BoJack Horseman:

As Bob-Waksberg is showing, BoJack is incapable of magically feeling cured of depression, he is stuck in a cycle of misery that no amount of success will spontaneously whisk away. The only constant in the life of BoJack Horseman is depression, and without the necessary treatment, BoJack, regardless of success, failure, triumph, or misery, will remain in a state of depression.

In a very similar vein to BoJack Horseman is the eponymous character in Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland's Rick and Morty. Rick Sanchez is a brilliant super-scientist capable of accomplishing his every goal and desire. With little apparent effort, Rick can construct devices that allow him to transcend time and space, shift dimensions, and travel throughout the universe. However, the problem is that Rick has no real desire, other than drinking to try and avoid his demons. Rick is a textbook alcoholic, and clearly suffers from depression (in fact, Rick's signature whimsical catchphrase is literally a thinly veiled cry for help).

In the most recent episode of Rick and Morty (*Spoilers*), "Autoerotic Assimilation," Rick reunites with his former girlfriend, Unity - a sentient HIVE-mind capable of enslaving entire worlds. At first the idea of being able to re-engage with a former fling gives Rick hope, but as the episode progresses, it becomes clear that Rick's self-destructive tendencies will drive Unity away. After she ultimately leaves Rick, it becomes apparent to Rick that there is no "one thing" that will ever give him the happiness that he craves. Despite the fact that Rick posses the ability to flee into a different dimension, if he wanted to escape the consequences of his mistakes, he in unable to for the sole reason that the Universe may change, but Rick Sanchez will remain the same destructive, depressed individual. With the God-like ability to shift the world around him, Rick cannot make himself happy.


Both of these surreal comedies are perfect allegories for what it is like for the average person living with depression. Depressed people cannot will themselves out of depression, it is a demon that continually tears into their mind as they live each and every day. Depression cannot be cured through success, or love, or some intangible idea. The cure for depression is treatment, because depression is not a state of mind, it is an illness. It is thanks to the writers on these major television shows, that the viewing public may gain a different perspective of what it means to be depressed.

Cover Image Credit: The Independent

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Dear Shondaland, You Made A Mistake Because April Kepner Deserves Better

"April Kepner... you're not average"
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I'll admit from the first time we were introduced to April in Season 6, I didn't like her so much. I mean we hated the "Mercy Westers" in the first place, so how could we see the potential in the annoying, know-it-all resident that was trying to compete with our beloved Lexie Grey.

But then, we saw her come face-to-face with a killer and thought maybe she had potential.


We then saw her surprise everyone when she proved to be the next trauma surgeon in the making and we were intrigued.

Notice how none of these stories had anything to do with Jackson Avery. Not that we didn't love her with Jackson, but for whatever reason you've chosen to end their very popular relationship. Suddenly, you think that April is not worth further exploration but you've forgotten one simple thing. We fell in love with her before "Japril" was ever in the picture.

We love her because her story was unlike the others and she had one of the best character developments on the show. She wasn't damaged like Meredith Grey or Alex Karev who have been on their journey to become all whole and healed, but she still had to fight hard to be taken seriously. Her story has so much potential for future development, but you've decided to throw it all away for "creative reasons."

I'm sorry, but there's nothing creative about doing the exact same thing you've done to all the other characters who have left the show. We've endured the loss of many beloved characters when you chose to write off George, Henry, Mark, and Lexie. We even took it when you did the unthinkable and wrote McDreamy out of the show - killing off one half of the leading couple. (WHO DOES THAT???)

But April Kepner? Are you kidding me?

She may no longer be with Jackson, but she was so much more than half of Japril. While most of us hate that Jackson and April are over, we probably could have dealt with it if April was still on the show. Now they're done and you think there aren't any more stories to tell about her character. Why? Because she'll just get in the way of Jackson and Maggie?

How could you not see that she was way more than Jackson's love interest?

She's so much more than you imagined her to be. April is the headstrong, talented trauma surgeon no one saw coming. The farmer's daughter started off an ugly duckling who became a soldier because she needed to be one and turned into one big beautiful swan who constantly has to fight for her coworkers and family to see her as such.

She's proven to be a soldier and swan on many occasions. Just take giving birth to her daughter in a storm on a kitchen table during an emergency c-section without any numbing or pain medication as an example. If she wasn't a soldier or a swan before, how could she not be after that?

Yet, you - the ones who created her - still see her as the ugly duckling of a character because she always had to take the backseat to everyone else's story and was never allowed to really be seen.

But we see her.

She's the youngest of her sisters who still think of her as the embarrassing little Ducky no matter how much she's grown.

This swan of a resident got fired for one mistake but came back fighting to prove she belongs. Not only did April Kepner belong there, but it was her talent, her kindness, her strength that made her Chief Resident. This simply wasn't enough for Dr. Bailey or her other residents so she fought harder.

She endured the pressure but always ended up being a joke to the others. When she was fired yet again, your girl came back a little shaken. She doubted herself, but how could she not when everyone was against her.

Despite everyone telling her she couldn't, she did rise and no one saw her coming because she remained in the background. She went off to Jordan broken and came back a pretty risky trauma surgeon.

We've watched for years as she was handed promising stories that we never got to see fully develop because she was in the background. We never got to see her rise. We get the beginning and the end, but hardly ever the middle.

I thought we were finally going to have an amazing story arc in season 11 when she loses Samuel, but what did we really get? Two or three episodes of her coming to terms with the loss of her baby and then April's disappearance from the show while she's grieving off screen so that Dr. Amelia Shepherd can shine her first season on the show. Where is April's life-changing surgeries? What does April get? She's background music.

Now what?

It's season 14 and we finally get the story we've been waiting 9 years for! We get Dark April and her crisis of faith. A story arc all Christians can appreciate. Here's the chance for real character development in the foreground, but wait...

Before her story is even wrapped up, you announce that this season will be her last. So we're forced to realize that the only reason we're getting this story now is that you're writing her off.

No matter how you end it, it's not going to do her story justice. If you kill her off to end her crisis of faith story, you're not reaching the many Christians who watch the show. If you have her leaving Seattle and taking Harriet with her, you didn't know April. If you have her leaving Seattle and abandoning Harriet, you really didn't know April. So anyway you choose to end her story, you lost out on one great character.

You messed up.

Both April Kepner and Sarah Drew deserved better.

Cover Image Credit: YouTube

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Why You Should Read 'Snotgirl' By Brian Lee O'Malley and Leslie Hung

I'm absolutely obsessed with Leslie Hung's artwork.
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Back in high school, I was obsessed with the Scott Pilgrim comic series. So when I saw that Brian O'Malley was working on another comic, I knew I had to pick it up. I'm a little late to the party, so that means I was able to read the first five issues bundled as Volume 1: Green Hair Don't Care all at once.

Needless to say, I'm still a fan of O'Malley's writing, and I'm absolutely obsessed with Leslie Hung's artwork. The premise is interesting and utilizes modern day technology/social media jobs to its advantage. There's also something mysterious and possibly supernatural going on, but it hasn't quite been revealed yet.

The characters are also very real; in fact, a lot of them are kind of unpleasant (especially our main character, Lottie), but the fact that we get to see their ugly sides makes them more believable. It's compelling that one moment I'm rooting for Lottie to fail, then the next I'm rooting for her. Although sometimes the text language and vapid characters can be a little cringy, I'm still interested enough in the plot that I'm willing to look at these elements as intentional social critiques.

There's really only one thing that's off-putting to me, and this is something that could be remedied over the course of the series as it continues. Currently, I'm not really understanding what's going on in the story and know I probably won't get any answers for a while. I can't tell if I'm supposed to focus on the drama between Lottie and her ex, her crumbling relationships with her crappy friends, or the mysterious new relationship with Coolgirl. There are hints of something going on under the surface, some darker undertones, that's just not prevalent enough for me to understand exactly where Snotgirl is going.

If you don't like cliffhangers, I suggest waiting a while before trying out Snotgirl.

Cover Image Credit: comixology.com

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