Deputy Entertainment editor Chloe Barrett explores how the animated series pulls back the curtain on women’s mental health, with an emphasis on treatment and medication.
The side effects of taking medication can be the most daunting part about finally taking the big step towards medicating. The contraceptive pill usually comes with a collapsible leaflet that underlines the many possible reactions that can occur in your body just from taking what seems like an insignificant and tiny tablet. This can lend itself to the thoughts that squirm their way into your mind concerning the possibility that this type of medication might not work for you, and you will have to try a different variety, repeating the process over and over again. It can be incredibly frustrating and downright sorrowful to narrow down what works for you, especially with antidepressants.
While many shows and movies cover the actual topic of depression and mental illness, mainly focusing on the way it can put your life on a static pause, actually treating it is often something that occurs off screen. This can be with therapy, medication, and many other methods.
Bojack Horseman is an animated adult show created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg that has never shied away from showing the gritty realities that often happen behind closed doors. The show itself focuses on an alcoholic and drug-addicted horse who battles through his childhood trauma while simultaneously struggling with being forgotten about in the public eye. It is an incredible series that will have your heartstrings pulled taunt as you feel grief for a cartoon-talking horse that has the smooth voice of Will Arnett.
Alongside Bojack is a host of many other characters who are all battling individual issues throughout their lives. Diane, a woman voiced by Alison Brie who is hired to write a book around Bojack, quickly integrates herself as a main character among the ensemble. After going through a divorce, she separates herself from the more unhealthy companions, determined to find a fresh start. She wants to write again, but even with the support of a new partner, a relentless wall of writer’s block remains solid.
In season six episode seven, which is appropriately titled ‘The Face of Depression’, Diane struggles with receiving a diagnosis that she is, in fact, depressed. Despite her psychiatrist diagnosing her, she struggles to accept the fact that she has depression, sugarcoating it instead by agreeing that yes, she is a little depressed, but it doesn’t extend further than that feeling. She battles with the accusation, claiming that she doesn’t have depression, despite the unhealthy habits she has drifted into, such as letting personal hygiene slide and smoking too much.
To her partner, she explains how she tried taking a certain brand of antidepressants back in college and disliked how they changed her as a person, dulling her personality and making her seem ‘less fun’ to be around. They also physically affected her body, causing weight gain and acne. Diane also confides that one of her biggest fears surrounding taking antidepressants is that she’s beyond help. And what if, despite everything that she tries, none of it helps? What happens after that?
In contrast, her ex-husband, Mr Peanutbutter, is applauded for de-stigmatizing mental health issues, despite not actually suffering from depression after a rumour swirls around that he attempted suicide. He then embarks on a tour where he is deemed the ‘face of depression’, and garners more appreciation due to his apparent braveness that he gleefully broadcasts. This scenario, when flipped to include a woman, can often garner very different responses of a negative nature.
Diane finally decides to take the massive step and gets her prescription for antidepressants filled. In the following episodes, Diane’s character model is slightly changed as she gains weight due to the tablets. However, it’s never once represented as negative. In the beginning, she struggles to remain consistent with taking her meds due to personal stress, even going through a small bout of withdrawal. Once she starts back on her tablets though, she feels lighter and clearer, returning to her writing in private, which allows her to examine her childhood trauma from an outside perspective and really delve deep into the feelings that she has always covered up. But overall, she’s confident that she made the right choice.
Seeing a character voice the worrisome thoughts that can occur when taking any medication, but specifically, antidepressants is an incredibly reassuring arc to follow. All of your concerns are extremely valid when deciding to test out something as important as a new or changed prescription, and the animated Bojack Horseman can provide the reassurance that you might be lacking due to worrisome thoughts. Do take care though, as the show itself covers issues such as addiction, trauma, mental illness, and more quite extensively through its six season run. It has somehow stuck with me as one of my favourite series though, which is great except for when I am asked if I am personally doing okay after rewatching it for the fourth time. Thank you for the incredibly valid concern, I promise I am fine, I am just a bit too emotionally attached to a self-destructive cartoon horse with a wonderful voice.