T.V. Imitates Reality—and Art Gets It Right

  • Forget Prozac.  It’s old hat.  The drug of choice in AJ Soprano’s medicine cabinet is Lexapro.  Yes, that Soprano—Tony’s son.  Even a mob family gets the blues.

    On last Sunday’s Walk Like a Man episode of HBO’s comedy, Carmella and Tony took their son right away to an experienced psychiatrist who peppered him with astute questions and determined which anti-depressant to prescribe.

    My one concern is that an unethical drug company could make a grab for TV producers or writers and try to “insert” their drug into the plot.  Other than that, I cheer on any pop medium that handles the topic of mental health in a relevant, honest and accurate way.  At the same time, I’d rather not see cartoon characters that go through the motions of having a mental illness.
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    I want to see on-screen, human beings making the tough choices that people who have psychiatric conditions make in real life, dealing with “our” issues in sensitive and enlightening ways that reduce the stigma.  For that, I applaud the writers of the Sopranos who knew that if AJ’s parents did the right thing, right away, their son had better odds of recovering.

    Though I don’t watch the Sopranos (I’m a rebel Italian girl), I’m sorry I missed this episode.  The one episode I watched five years ago with my father featured someone getting shot dead within the first five minutes.  Interesting that a TV show focused on mobsters is able to portray them as human beings, and they aren’t coddled or made poster-size villains, but characters with quirks and personalities all their own.

    In that regard, I’ll comment on depression in men, which manifests itself differently for them than it does for women.  A lot of times men get angry, sad and confused and want to be left alone.  Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents.  It is the third leading cause of death among black men 15-24.  And men commit suicide more often than women.  

    Indeed, depression isn’t just a women’s lament.  Men experiencing depression might not get help because it doesn’t appear they’re a danger to themselves, they could be considered irascible or hotheaded, just having a bad day that lasts . . . three weeks?

    What’s the solution?  TV shows, subway ads, and other pop culture media that feature real people living with depression, suicidal thoughts and other mental illnesses.  The Sopranos choice of a plot was wise and brave.  The National Institute of Mental Health features ads in Schizophrenia Digest that give voice to men whose depression is so severe, that in the words of Melvin Martin, a marketing executive and member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, “It was a sadness so deep that even now, 30 years later, it’s indescribable.”

    Giving a voice and face to people whose depression hits them like a twister in the brain is the right thing to do.  Incorporating their lives into the plotlines of film and TV is a great first step.  I envision using the Walk Like a Man episode of the Sopranos in schools and at lectures to start a dialogue about what it’s like to live in that hell, as an adjunct to public speaking efforts by people living with it..

  • Other than that, I feel society needs to heal from the stigma, and this can only be done when mental health patients have the courage to disclose appropriately and to people who would benefit from knowing their stories.  From there, we can educate the general public.
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    Who knows?  Today a TV show features depression.  Tomorrow I’d like to see it focus on schizophrenia.

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Published On: May 09, 2007