Expert Breaks Down How HBO Shows Tackle Mental Health

By Victoria Kim 10/17/19

For a new video series, a mental health expert explores popular characters with mental health issues on HBO. 

expert watching HBO
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A new initiative by HBO tries to break down the portrayal of mental health on popular series like Game of Thrones and Succession, helping spark important conversations and debunking common misconceptions.

Doctor Commentaries

Cognitive behavioral therapist Dr. Ali Mattu is HBO’s resident mental health expert featured in a series of "HBO Doctor Commentaries" that are available to watch on YouTube. Each video focuses on a different HBO show in which a character is dealing with some aspect of mental health (or illness).

In one video, Mattu explains the difference between real OCD vs. people who say “I’m so OCD,” by using the example of the character Hannah Horvath on the HBO show Girls.

The term OCD, short for obsessive-compulsive disorder, is often misapplied to describe much less severe symptoms. “‘I like to keep things organized,’ or ‘I can be very picky with things’—that’s not OCD,” Mattu says.

Hannah Horvath, played by Lena Dunham, is “a very realistic example of what OCD can look like,” Mattu said.

“If you’re not diagnosed with OCD, try not to joke about it. It can be really hard to talk about OCD. It’s why I’m so happy shows like this exist. It gives us a place to start a conversation that hopefully move things forward,” said Mattu.

Tyrion's Anhedonia

Another video touches on the anhedonia of Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones. Mattu explains that anhedonia is a “core symptom of depression” where you no longer experience joy, motivation or pleasure from your usual hobbies.

“What I love about Tyrion (played by Peter Dinklage) is his story is about connecting with a larger purpose, doing what’s best for Westeros, owning who he is, and the unique ways he can help others,” Mattu said.

“We’ll never know if Tyrion was struggling with a mental illness, but whatever he was dealing with didn’t get in the way of him being a hero. And that’s true for all of us. No matter what you’re experiencing, it doesn’t have to get in the way of living the life you want to live.”

A PSA For Mental Health Awareness Day

HBO’s mental health awareness campaign, launched on World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10), also released a public service announcement video featuring a broad spectrum of HBO favorites that tackle mental health issues through drama, stand-up, or talk show.

“It’s more common than you think. And it’s OK,” the PSA says in the end, encouraging people to call the hotline 1-833-HBO-NAMI or visit

The cable network also added new mental health disclaimers before certain shows like Euphoria that inform viewers of the portrayal of certain subject matter like bipolar disorder, depression, and substance use disorder.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr