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3 Ways Jennifer Goines Sets the Standard for Mental Health Representation

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCF chapter.

Content warning: Some spoilers ahead.

In general, 12 Monkeys is an incredible show. From the character-driven plot, to exciting plot twists, to witty humor that pairs perfectly with the show’s more serious tones, this show quickly went on the list of my favorite shows of all time. 

One thing that really stood out to me about 12 Monkeys was Jennifer Goines. Played by the amazing Emily Hampshire, Jennifer commands attention and affection from her very first scene and she only gets better from there. Jennifer is a testament to great writing, creators who really care about what they are making, and — of course — incredible acting on Hampshire’s part. She is the mental health representation I didn’t even know I was missing until I watched this show. Here are three ways that Jennifer Goines is helping to set the new standard for how we talk about mental health. 

She isn’t used as a plot device.

Honestly, I’m pretty sick of seeing characters with mental illness treated as some kind of plot device, or, even worse, as another character’s sob story. 

Instead of furthering the idea that people with mental illness will inevitably burden the people around them, or that their mental health is the only thing worth mentioning, Jennifer is a well-rounded character whose full “purpose,” including and outside of her mental health, is explored. 

Even when Jennifer’s mental illness is revealed to be related to the plot, she is never reduced to that plot. She has this big, wonderful personality that only flourishes as it is fostered by an emotionally safe environment. It also doesn’t erase her struggles. She doesn’t suddenly stop experiencing the negative symptoms of her mental illness just because it makes her important. Her importance and her illness coexist in a really refreshing way.

She stands up for herself.

12 Monkeys doesn’t try to pretend that the good guys always do the right thing — it’s another thing I love about this show. Every character is so rounded out that you understand why they make the choices they do, even when you don’t like those choices. 

Even the good guys, Jennifer’s friends, say things to her that really aren’t cool. Sometimes they treat her like a tool instead of a person or disregard her, but she stands up for herself. She calls them out when they treat her poorly, and it’s always clear that it isn’t fair that she has to remind the people she loves how she deserves to be treated. 

It’s normal for people who don’t know this experience to get things wrong. But it’s so important to see a character stand up for herself, especially to her friends, and watch them learn and do better over time. 

Her struggles are realistic.

Mental health can be a confusing and complex experience, and 12 Monkeys does an incredible job of portraying what that experience can be like. Again and again, I watched this show, shocked when Jennifer pulled words straight from my very own head. 

There is no one equation for mental illness. Everybody’s experience will be unique — you know, like life — but Jennifer hits a few important points.

In an episode that explores Jennifer’s past, she tells Cassie “You have no idea how exhausting it is to be crazy.” I know that may not seem like such a big deal, but it is. Mental illness can often be seen as something that just becomes a part of life for the people who experience it, and while in some ways that’s true, it ignores how debilitating it feels to force ourselves to exist in an ableist world every single day. Hearing this acknowledged is so validating. 

Later in the series, Jennifer faces the possibility of her mental illness going away. Not only does the show avoid encouraging the ableist idea that she will be better off neurotypical, but it uses this moment to illustrate another common experience around mental illness. When media repeatedly reduces the entirety of your life to your mental illness, it can start to feel like it’s all you are. 12 Monkeys addresses this and makes it clear that what makes Jennifer so amazing is neither despite nor because of her mental illness, but completely independent.

12 Monkeys honors and respects the experiences of those with mental illness through Jennifer. The show ignores Hollywood stereotypes of mental illness and instead presents Jennifer Goines — a strong, hilarious and just overall extraordinary character.

Megan is a Senior at UCF majoring in English with a Creative Writing track. When she isn't reading or writing, you can find her watching her favorite TV shows and movies. Megan loves to travel and has already crossed 10 countries off her list. You can find more of Megan on her YouTube channel www.youtube.com/meganreneevideos, on Instagram @meganreneetoday, or TikTok @meganreneetoday
UCF Contributor