How "This Is Us" Encourages Men To Speak About Mental Health

By Victoria Kim 10/18/18

The critically-acclaimed series showcased a candid conversation about mental health in a recent episode.

Sterling K Brown
Photo via YouTube

Warning: This article may contain spoilers.

The NBC drama series This Is Us doesn’t shy from addressing tough issues like the stress of in-vitro fertilization and the trauma of war. In the most recent episode, the show depicts two men talking about mental health. This simple exchange, broadcast on a major TV network, is more impactful than we know.

A conversation between brothers-in-law Randall (played by Sterling K. Brown) and Toby (Chris Sullivan) turns to their personal demons.

“I can’t picture you with anxiety. You know, the way you present,” says Toby. “That’s what we do, right? Men,” Randall replies.

Toby, who we know has struggled with depression in the past, said that without his medication for his condition, “life gets pretty scary.” Randall is surprised to learn that his brother is medicating for depression. “Never would have known.”

Toby’s depression diagnosis surfaced after separating with his first wife. And as he and wife Kate Pearson (played by Chrissy Metz) struggle to conceive, he is informed by a doctor that his depression medication may be affecting his sperm.

As for Randall, his anxiety surfaced near the end of Season 1, when he had a panic attack, and it was addressed further in Season 2. We learn that he has dealt with anxiety since he was a child and suffers panic attacks from time to time.

Writer and co-executive producer KJ Steinberg, described the making of the normally taboo conversation between Randall and Toby. “[It’s] actually a really sensitive conversation,” he said. “The fear is to treat it too glibly. You never want anything to appear too simple. But you also are writing for characters who share an intimacy and a need to connect with one another.”

Overall, the show is not afraid to depict the vulnerabilities of the men on the show. We learn that Jack Pearson (Milo Ventimiglia) had a drinking problem, as did his father. “We’re a family of addicts. Our father was an addict. We don’t talk about his drinking problem,” said Jack’s son Kevin (Justin Hartley), who faced his own addiction to opioid painkillers.

Public health campaigns like Heads Together in the UK encourage people to speak up, not hide away, mental health issues they may be struggling with—particularly men. Retired Olympic medalist Michael Phelps is also on a mission to shed the stigma of mental health issues. He has publicly discussed his own struggles with depression and alcohol on many occasions.

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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