17 shows that positively discuss mental health

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From financial stress, burnout, and mental health conditions, Shameless is more than just a show about a complicated family. It serves an extension of mental health discourse for a financially stressed family, people in the LGBTQ+ community, and those with bipolar disorder.

While all that pop culture misconstrues, exaggerates, and vilifies mental health conditions that aren’t depression or generalized anxiety disorders, Shameless portrays Ian’s bipolar disorder in an accurate and healthy way. Though the series featured Monica’s bipolar disorder before Ian’s diagnosis, the series shows Ian’s process as he copes with his new diagnosis.

Both Ian and Monica’s portrayal of bipolar disorder also shows how manic and depressive episodes manifest differently between people, especially when both characters aren’t taking their medication. Because the Gallagher household helps Ian get treatment, both in an inpatient facility and through prescription medication, it shows how families and friends should encourage their loved ones to get treatment.

While his family periodically helps him and holds him accountable for treating his bipolar disorder, Ian Gallagher also gets a chance to personally reflect on his diagnosis and symptoms. As he’s on trial for his time in the military, he listens to his family describe his symptom, and that allows the diagnosis to become more real to him even though he still periodically tries to deny it. And, that’s normal in any drastic life change, mental health conditions included.

The series also subtly highlights the importance of setting up boundaries with toxic parents. Though their dad, Frank, rarely ever heeds his banishment from the Gallagher household, each Gallagher constructs their own emotional and physical boundary to protect themselves from Frank’s manipulation.

To be clear, Frank Gallagher isn’t a crappy father because he’s an alcoholic. It’s his manipulative personality that makes him a bad parent, as he’s put his own kids’ lives at risk (based on the various childhood stories the Gallagher household has). His nonexistent parenting could have destroyed his kids’ integrity. And, at times, their dysfunctional upbringing does lead them to do questionable things.

Apart from accurate mental health representation, the show also tackles addiction and the continual process of recovery with both Lip and Fiona. Although Fiona has never been explicitly portrayed as having an addiction to alcohol, she naturally relies on alcohol and drugs as unhealthy coping mechanisms when her life becomes more chaotic than usual. However, the series shows Lip’s healthy efforts to recover from his alcoholism, which implies the reality that recovery from addiction is a lifelong process and doesn’t just stop after an allotted amount of support group meetings.