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2 Netflix shows with a spot-on portrayal of mental health care

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The search for the perfect binge-worthy show can sometimes feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. We scroll endlessly, hoping to come across a hidden gem that will captivate us. But more often than not, we’re drawn to trashy or meaningless shows that offer little substance or satisfaction. These fleeting treats may provide temporary amusement, but rarely leave a lasting impact; they quickly fade from memory once the credits roll.

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But, littered with the masses of forgettable content, rare treasures are waiting to be discovered – shows that not only make for a brilliant watch, but also touch on topics that matter. In an age where authentic portrayals of ordinary people and their everyday struggles are increasingly difficult to come by, few shows stand out for their ability to realistically portray mental health and wellbeing. The next two Netflix series do just that.

1. After life (2019-2022)

After life is a renowned Netflix comedy series that follows the journey of Tony, a man struggling with deep grief after the death of his wife. Consumed by grief and anger, he manages his pain by adopting a suicidal and nihilistic outlook – believing he has nothing left to lose. However, as he interacts with the residents of his small town and reflects on his memories with his wife, he begins to rethink his outlook on life and discovers moments of unexpected beauty.

Stereotypical portrayals of coping with death are often based on overused tropes of dark humor as a coping mechanism. In these images, the characters use sarcasm, irony, and morbid jokes as a way to deflect from the emotional weight of the loss and to mask their true feelings of grief. These images can perpetuate the misconception that laughter is incompatible with grief, making it seem like an unhealthy, macabre coping mechanism. Instead, grief is reduced to a punchline, and the profound impact that loss can have is completely downplayed.

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In reality, research shows that reactions to death are multifaceted and that humor can play an important role in how individuals cope with grief. Although the intense grief caused by the loss of a loved one is not necessarily humorous, humor has long been intertwined with discussions of death. Humor serves as a valuable coping mechanism because it serves various social and cognitive management functions. And by employing humor, individuals can often repair or defuse the hostility of their circumstances. This form of coping can be seen as challenging and life-affirming, offering a way to find comfort and meaning during the unpleasantness of grief.

After life defies conventional portrayals of grief by not humorously trivializing or speeding up the grieving process. The above research welcomes this After life does not attempt to diminish the power of death by making light of it. Instead, it subverts audience expectations by offering a warm, heartbreaking portrayal of loss that contrasts sharply with the expected humor. And rather than conforming to the stereotype of men’s grief as stoic and emotionally closed off, Tony is depicted as vulnerable, flawed and deeply human. Through his heartfelt exploration of grief and his refusal to shy away from the ugly aspects of loss, After life not only challenges societal norms, but also offers viewers a deep and empathetic insight into dealing with life after death. This refreshing approach ties in with the fact that honest portrayals of grief resonate much more deeply with audiences, making it a must-watch.

2. Domestic help (2021)

Domestic help is a Netflix original series based on Stephanie Land’s memoir ‘Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive’. The series follows the journey of a struggling single mother who escapes an abusive relationship and strives to build a better life for herself and her daughter. To make ends meet, she takes a job as a maid and faces numerous challenges and obstacles along the way.

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Dramatized portrayals of poverty and domestic violence often portray these issues in sensational or oversimplified ways. Poverty is often glorified or portrayed as a temporary setback rather than a systemic problem rooted in economic inequality. Likewise, domestic violence is often sensationalized for dramatic effect, focusing on extreme acts of violence rather than its less entertaining, insidious aspects. The resulting PTSD is also often misrepresented, with characters experiencing sudden and dramatic flashbacks or breakdowns, rather than the more complex symptoms that individuals may experience.

Actual research on poverty, domestic violence and PTSD reveals a stark contrast to the dramatized portrayals often seen in Hollywood. These issues are closely linked and often manifest in complex ways that are far removed from the sensational images on screen.

Poverty is not a temporary setback, but a pervasive and deeply entrenched condition that affects every aspect of a person’s life, making it incredibly difficult to break out without access to resources and support. Domestic violence is not always characterized by dramatic acts of violence, but often involves subtle forms of control and manipulation that are difficult to recognize and escape. Likewise, PTSD is not always characterized by sudden and dramatic flashbacks or breakdowns, but can manifest in a variety of symptoms that may be less visible to outsiders, such as hypervigilance, dissociation, and emotional numbing.

Domestic help is a special series that shows what escaping domestic violence, poverty and trauma looks like. Rather than sensationalize these issues, the series offers a realistic and raw look at the trial, highlighting the messy, repetitive and drawn-out nature of the battle. By showing the good, bad and ugly sides of homelessness, romance and motherhood, Domestic help sheds light on the systemic barriers and societal injustices faced by individuals like its protagonist – and has rightly earned its place as an outstanding and unmissable show.

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A version of this post also appears on Forbes.com.

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