How “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is Destigmatizing Mental Illness

Via CJ News

Mental health in America is becoming a bit of a buzz word on college campuses. Unfortunately, honest dialogue has not been matched by the media. As I flip through channels (aka Netflix) I find countless representations of mental health that are deeply unsettling and hardly scratch the surface of the problem.

To my pleasant surprise I came across “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” a show that has exceeded and set a higher precedent for how television shows can and should capture mental health issues. Don’t be dissuaded by the seemingly sexist title as the name is purely ironic.

“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ is co-written by Aline Brosh McKenna, who also acts as showrunner, executive producer and head writer along with Rachel Bloom, who plays the lead role of Rebecca and assists in writing the songs. In the Root, Bassey Likpi wrote, “Low key, Rachel Bloom is who I think people wanted Lena Dunham to be and who Lena Dunham thinks she is. No shade. All shade.” To which I have to agree.

Via Wikia

Not only is the show created by two leading females, but it tackles major issues in a lighthearted, albeit realistic way. In this musical dramedy, the protagonist is Rebecca Bunch, an intelligent, witty and competent lawyer.

                                                          Related: Addressing Mental Health on College Campuses

In the first episode, Bunch leaves her lavish New York lifestyle for West Covina, California in hopes of reuniting with her long lost ex-boyfriend. The first two seasons follow Bunch and her crazy antics as she tries to cling to her former boyfriend, only to discover she’s truly holding on to a security and sense of stability that can’t be attained. While earlier episodes seem to lack diversity and perhaps show Bunch in a less human, palatable sense, the later episodes delve into her condition more fully.

As the seasons continue, we begin to learn more about the complexity of Rebecca and the people in her life all accompanied by spontaneous musical numbers. We glimpse into her past and see that she is not defined by her mental illness. She is also not “crazy” because as the show explains that term is “a bit more nuanced than that.” Despite being debilitated by certain triggers, she holds a group of friends and place within society. By knowing her triggers, the viewer can better empathize with Rebecca.Via Vignette

Unlike other television shows that depict complete psychopaths for the viewer to loathe, we greet Rebecca with compassion because she’s an anti-hero we can identify with and root for. Rebecca is not seen as a victim or villain; rather, she’s a complex person just as we all are.Via Vignette

As Rebecca spirals downward, she faces a real, honest suicide attempt. From there we get to follow her journey to recovery. Unlike 13 Reasons Why did with the suicide contagion, the show encourages seeking help without glorifying suicide. Instead, the suicide attempt is met with compassion by her friends while simultaneously demonstrating how mental health impacts everyone. In doing so, it reminds viewers with mental health illnesses that they are not alone and have resources while showing others what it’s like to have a condition.

After Rebecca’s suicide attempt she receives a diagnosis and discovers she was previously misdiagnosed. The show continues to attest that mental health doesn’t end with a diagnosis, nor is it simply cured upon receiving one. “Crazy Ex Girlfriend” does not treat mental health as a joke or use it to caricature people. For these reasons, I find the show to be a commendable one that increases visibility of mental health issues and gives those suffering with a mental health illness a character in the media to which they can finally identify with.