Mental Illness on Television

I have to say, Chicago Med is doing an excellent job at handling mental illness on television. Probably one of the best I’ve seen.

The problem with them doing such a good job is that it makes it difficult to watch. Maybe it’s just me, but when I relate to a character in this way, it brings up a lot of past hurt. Sometimes it also teaches me something.

The show has had several mental illness stories in it’s first season, but I think yesterday’s episode hit closest to home for me.

**Spoiler Alert**

If you haven’t watched the episode yet and don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now. If you don’t care, please continue.


At first I thought it was weird that it was strange that Dr. Charles was so persistent about the patient being suicidal, even though he really seemed like he wasn’t.

But when he brought up endogenous depression, a phrase I’d never heard before, it hit me. Hard.

As Dr. Charles described it, this guy has the perfect life, no reason to be depressed, no reason to try to kill himself. He looks happy and successful on the outside, yet he is absolutely miserable. So much so that he refused to let them call his wife because he didn’t even want to admit to her that he felt that way.

This is not a way I have ever seen depression or mental illness portrayed on TV, and it is by far the most accurate portrayal I have ever seen. At least from my perspective. I know I say it a lot, but it cannot be said enough, mental illness is different for every single person.

I certainly wouldn’t call my life perfect, but it hasn’t been bad. No traumatic events, that I’m aware of (except for the whole job situation that played out over the past year, but that’s another story), nothing that would be an obvious cause for depression. I mean, yeah, maybe moving across the country at 13, but the more I think about it, the more I thing it started before that. My anxiety had definitely been around for much longer, but my depression didn’t really hit until my pre-teens, best I can figure. But I was in denial about my depression for years. I still struggle with the whole “no reason to be sad” thing. I constantly feel like my depression is not bad enough to be considered legitimate. Yet, I find myself thinking about suicide a lot. Almost on a daily basis. Not that I get anywhere close to acting upon it on a daily basis. It usually comes on in the form of an intrusive thought when I get stressed, but some days it is a lot worse. I get so completely overwhelmed by just simple daily tasks that I don’t want to deal with it, but I see no way out, and that’s when the thoughts get to the point where I do start to worry that I might act upon it. Yet I still feel like it’s not bad enough and I can’t even bring myself to call a crisis line because I feel like my issues are too insignificant and they won’t want to help me.

Sorry. Went on a bit of a tangent there. Back to my point.

Because I’m aware of my depression, it’s easier for me to recognize these thoughts and at least attempt to counteract them with logical, rational thoughts, but it doesn’t stop them from happening. Because of my intense fear of being told there is nothing wrong with me and that I’m fine, I hide it. Sometimes, I’m so good at hiding how I really feel that I even have myself convinced.

That fear is not unjustified. It’s a habit I formed many, many years ago. It has happened to me, more times than I can count, someone telling me that I’m not depressed or that there’s nothing wrong with me. It is extremely painful to admit how miserable I am. I don’t think I’ve ever actually flat out told anyone. Not even my doctor or social worker. When I’m around people, I am very good at hiding it. When I’m alone, I feel completely drained, and I constantly feel like crying.

Ok, back to Chicago Med.

Leading up to the scene where Dr. Charles brought up endogenous depression with the patient, I was convinced that it was Dr. Charles who was depressed and he was just projecting, unable to admit it to himself.

Obviously he was right about the patient, but I still wasn’t convinced that something wasn’t going on with Dr. Charles.

The very last scene of the episode confirmed my suspicion. He is being treated for depression, and he was experimenting with decreasing his medication.

That lead me to another thing that I can relate to.

They warn you that decreasing doses of antidepressants can have side effects, including increased depression and anxiety.

My doctor and I decided to decrease my SSRI a couple months ago because it was causing problems with my sleep (which was a problem before, but it made it worse) and it was having a significantly negative impact my daily functioning. About two weeks after the third incremental decrease, I had a terrible week. My emotions were a disaster, my anxiety was all over the map, and my sensory processing was making it difficult to concentrate on any thing. I had to leave work more than once that week.

At the time, I had no idea what was going on. It wasn’t until the almost 24 hour panic attack had settled down that I realized it may have been the decrease in medication.

In that last scene, Dr. Charles had said that he was starting to feel foggy and was worried he would misdiagnose a patient or something. He then said that he could feel the dark cloud creeping back in.

That’s kind of what’s happened to me. I had to decrease it because I could barely function at work, but now I’m finding myself falling into old habits when it comes to work and stress. I’m isolating myself, and I’m back to being completely unhappy. My general mood is still better than it was, but I’m finding myself a lot more irritable than I had been when I was on the higher dose of SSRI with the other antidepressant. I also realized the other day that I can’t look myself in the mirror anymore, which is a behaviour I noticed about a year ago.

Anyway, there’s a part of me that feels really good when I see mental illness portrayed realistically on television, but it also hurts, because it’s a reminder of everything I’ve worked to overcome in my own life.

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Edit: I’d intended on mentioning this when I wrote this post, but I forgot. This isn’t the first time Chicago Med has had a major focus on mental illness. Dr. Charles is one of the main characters. He’s a psychiatrist and he’s almost always in the ER for consults and whatnot. But they have also had an episode with a patient with bipolar disorder having an intense manic episode when she was taken off her meds. That same storyline also triggered a storyline with one of the other main doctors on the show having PTSD. I feel like there’s been more, and there’s definitely been smaller storylines mixed in, but those are the ones that stood out the most to me.

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