WELLNESS
09/29/2016 08:00 am ET

'You’re The Worst’ Is The Best At Depicting Mental Illness

File this under “required viewing."

This contains mild spoilers from episode five of “You’re The Worst.”

In last night’s episode of “You’re The Worst,” actor Desmin Borges as war veteran Edgar Quintero delivered a near-perfect portrayal of life with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He can’t sleep. His war memories are triggered by multiple, everyday occurrences ― from simply passing a woman in the grocery store to seeing a pile of garbage. He gets angry and anxious. He feels hopeless and scared. And at his worst, he has suicidal ideations. All of which match the exact symptoms of the mental health condition to a tee.

While the show’s plot has featured elements of Edgar’s experience with PTSD in past episodes ― he regularly attends a support group, for example, and openly takes medication ― this is the first time viewers get an insight into how the condition can truly threaten his wellbeing.

And it solidifies “You’re The Worst,” the FXX series often billed as an anti-romantic comedy, as one of the best shows in recent history when it comes to capturing mental health issues. 

The reality of veterans who really struggle with PTSD

Along with his textbook symptoms, Edgar also struggles to get adequate care or effective treatment for his disorder ― an issue that so many real-life veterans face.

It’s estimated that 11 to 20 percent of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom experience PTSD. That number increases exponentially when you include those who served in previous wars. Yet many former military members don’t get the support they need.

Approximately 20 to 22 veterans die by suicide every day. There’s often a waiting list for beds in treatment centers, which could potentially hurt people who are at risk for self harm. But some don’t even seek help at all for fear of looking “weak” in a field where you’re supposed to be “strong.”

This is precisely what Edgar grapples with, too. In one scene he tells a stranger, who is also a veteran with PTSD, that he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. The stranger offers advice and healthy ways to manage the condition:  

“Figure out what works,” he says. “The minute you stop waiting for someone else to cure you, the minute you start living again.”

How the show gets mental health right ― and why it matters

Edgar’s story isn’t the only time “You’re The Worst” has addressed mental health conditions. During the show’s second season, it was revered for it’s precise portrayal of what it’s like to live with clinical depression.

Showrunner Stephen Falk wrote in Variety last year that executives of the show wanted to push the project beyond a simple “rom com” and address deeper, more complex issues that many people face in their daily lives. As Libby Hill at the LA Times pointed out last year, the show puts realistic lens on the disorder, which affects more than 15 million American adults, through the eyes of Gretchen Cutler, one of the series’ main characters:

At its heart, what “You’re the Worst” understands that most shows, most individuals, don’t, is that clinical depression often functions as a sine wave. There are good times, times when you’re as close to normal as you ever manage, times where it feels like you’re finally free of the shadow of illness that stalks your every move, and you hope those days last forever. But nothing gold can stay and soon you’re suffused with darkness again.

By humanizing an otherwise stereotyped condition, “You’re The Worst” isn’t just good TV ― it’s actually contributing to visibility that can help public health efforts.

Research shows that the negative perceptions around mental illness often prevent people from getting medical treatment. The shame surrounding mental health silences individuals from disclosing their conditions, leaving them to fight their symptoms on their own. And, as experts point out, that can do wonders for stigma.

For a show with “worst” in its title, it can at least say it’s one of the best when it comes to mental health.

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