Bojack Horseman is an (16+) animated sitcom on Netflix that follows Bojack, who is an anthropomorphic horse and his adventures as a failed, but still hopeful actor, as well as his friends Diane, Mr. Peanutbutter, Todd and Princess Carolyn.
While the show is mainly a comedy, it also has an important sub-plot that follows Bojack and his friends' mental states, and is said to be, by many psychiatrists and psychologists, a very accurate portrayal of mental health in media.
tw: suicide, abuse, depression ; Research, Editing, Thumbnail, Transcription: Megan Kwok
Mental Illness is Not Romanticised
A very special aspect of Bojack Horseman is that it depicts characters that are celebrities, which most people would assume don't have mental illnesses, because their life seems so good, they seem to be so put-together, so they couldn't POSSIBLY be relatable to just any normal person. But Bojack Horseman turns that on its head, showing that celebrities are just normal people, and even if they have everything they could ever possibly want, they can still have mental illness- it's not something that's purely due to circumstance.
In addition, Bojack Horseman does not show the typical media portrayal of mental illness, which is either heavily romanticised or implying that people with mental illnesses are weak- with every character, we can see how their mental illness does not make them weak, but we also see that mental illness harms them in some aspects of their life, if they don't get treated accordingly.
For example, Diane, who is still able to write amazing books even on antidepressants, who contrasts with Bojack, who chooses to avoid therapy and is thus stuck in a self-destructive pattern.
Plus, the show makes it clear that while people with mental illnesses should be sympathised, they should be still held accountable for their actions. Take this quote from Todd Chavez, a friend of Bojack.
“You can't keep doing [bad] things and then feel bad about yourself as if that makes it OK.”
And through these characters pointing out the toxic behaviours in other characters, the show encourages people with mental illnesses to reach out, and shows that it truly is the best option.
Diane is a character in Bojack Horseman who is first introduced as a ghost writer for Bojack's autobiography, and the story follows her as she navigates her writing career and eventually goes on antidepressants. She originally neglected taking them due to the fear of not being able to create good writing work.
However, in the last season, she finally takes antidepressants. She gains some weight, but it's portrayed to not be a bad thing. Most importantly, it doesn't hinder her artistic process- in fact, it improves it, since she had previously been very preoccupied with her trauma, that when she took her antidepressants, she felt free to write.
Many artists nowadays are afraid to seek help, for example, Billy from the movie "Miss Stevens", who is played by Timothee Chalamet. Billy is an aspiring actor, and fears that going on medication will damper his performance, but that is not true at all, as seen with Diane's example, as well as real life examples like Vincent Van Gogh, whose most famous art works were actually created after he went on medication, Kristen Bell, Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez.
However, Bojack Horseman also shows the side effects of medication, but unlike many other shows, it does not use it as a plot device- instead, it gives viewers an understanding of how the medication actually impacts people- it doesn't magically solve all your problems- but that sticking through the first few days, weeks, or even months, will all be worth it.
When Diane first takes her antidepressants, the broad stereotype that they are "magical cures for depression" is instantly broken, because we still see Diane struggling through her daily life- her old problems weren't magically whisked away. Plus, the show portrays the side effects of the medication accurately- the first few days, Diane still has mood swings- in fact, her emotions are much more amplified, but she persevered, soon getting back into writing and getting her life back together. This shows viewers that antidepressants or medication in general aren't a magical cure, and that medication is a marathon, not a sprint. In addition, with Diane's weight gain, the show shows us that being fat is not inherently bad, and it all stems from the fatphobia in society, while still showing Diane struggle with the weight gain- this both teaches the viewers a lesson while not talking down to them.
Another very important character is Sarah Lynn, a former child actor that Bojack used to work with, who struggled with alcoholism and self-destructive tendencies. While she starts off being a stereotypical child actor- cocky, extroverted- throughout the show, we get to see just how damaged she is, and just how relatable she is. Her character not only shows that there are many, many factors that lead to mental illness, but her relationships with other characters also demonstrate good and bad ways to interact with those with mental illness.
Sarah Lynn was forced into acting by her mother, while she herself wanted to become an architect. After growing up, she compares her experience as a child actor to labour, and regrets it. Her mother was implied to also be very abusive, as well as her father. Not only that, but while she was working with Bojack, he gave her a speech about how actors' only job were to please the audience, all culminating into her hatred of the industry. But because she is a child, she doesn't speak up, suffering in the dark, suffering in the silence.
Through her mother and father, we can clearly see how parents impact their childrens' psyche. While it is not the only reason for mental illness, parents can influence the mental health of their child, both through genetics and the way they bring up their child. In Sarah Lynn's case, it culminates into a need for attention, as well as thoughts that they were the reason they received the abuse/trauma, which many children with neglectful/abusive parental figures have, and is the cause for Sarah's ultimate downfall. Sarah's relationship with Bojack is also an example of how you should not treat someone with mental illness- you should not talk down to them, you should not think that they are inherently bad- you should listen to them, like any normal person would, and let them heal.
Sarah Lynn is the other side to Diane's coin- while Diane chooses to seek therapy and medication. Sarah continues on her self-destructive path, which causes her demise. And the two very strong women teach us all a valuable lesson that trauma doesn't mean anything is wrong with you. But you must choose to seek happiness.
Through all of these reasons, Bojack Horseman has become an amazing show for people with mental illnesses to relate to, and people without, to get a clear and accurate understanding of mental illnesses.
And though the show does not have the traditional "happy ending", the audience still feel hope for the characters- they are starting to seek treatment, and know how accountable they are for their actions, which acts as a light at the end of the tunnel.
"BoJack's Sarah Lynn & Diane: Traumatized into Superstardom. | by ...." 27 Nov. 2020, https://medium.com/who-asked-you/bojacks-sarah-lynn-diane-traumatized-into-superstardom-b6d6760b878.
"Let's Talk About Sarah Lynn. The most misunderstood ... - Medium." 1 May. 2019, https://medium.com/follow-your-heart/lets-talk-about-sarah-lynn-11af1890776e.
"Mental Illness in Bojack Horseman - The Odyssey Online." 29 Nov. 2020, https://www.theodysseyonline.com/mental-illness-in-bojack-horseman.
"Therapist Reacts to Bojack Horseman" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfnTs-E0Rcs&
"Doctor Reacts to Bojack Horseman | Psychiatry Doctor Analyzes Depression on Bojack" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6DqqKDm6Lk
"Bojack Horseman and mental illness - Zoice." 27 Dec. 2020, http://zoice.org/bojack-horseman-and-mental-illness/.
"How BoJack Horseman Depicts Life and Mental Health - Wikye." https://www.wikye.com/how-bojack-horseman-depicts-life-and-mental-health/.