"Shameless" - a Show That Actually Get Mental Illnesses Right
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"Shameless" - a Show That Actually Get Mental Illnesses Right

Personal Growth

November 07, 2021

Six months ago, the last episode of the legendary show Shameless was released. Fans said goodbyes to the series with a smile and a slight frustration over the finale of several storylines, but almost all of them probably remember the complex palette of feelings that the show gave when Frank was once again at death and defied God or when life punished the young head family Fiona for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Shameless is not just a popular teen show that has not lost its popularity in 10 years on screens. Probably the main feature of this series is the ability to talk about complex things easily and naturally. It is really hard to find a show with a good and accurate representation of mental illnesses.

Shameless showed mental illness in a realistic and humanizing way. So let’s discuss what exactly mental illnesses are portrayed in this show and why it is important to be talked about.

1. Bipolar disorder (portrayed by Ian and Monica Gallaghers)

Bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression, is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings, including emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).

The storyline dedicated to bipolar disorder is very well revealed and allows viewers not only to educate themselves more about this disease but also to learn how to support and help someone who is bipolar.

Throughout the seasons, Ian Gallagher has shown how bipolar disorder slowly changes a person, his emotional state, and his inner world. How it affects a person's relationship with a family, partner, and, in general, changes his worldview.

The representation of bipolar disorder got positive feedback from viewers. That's what Sebastian Zulch wrote in HelloFlo blog about “Shameless,”:

Watching Ian’s journey has always been heart-wrenching for me because I could relate so much. But I appreciated the show’s positive portrayal of mental illness and medicine, which helped normalize my own experiences a little more. As someone who hasn’t been able to hold down a full-time job yet, Ian showed me that it’s possible to get to a point where you can thrive in the workplace and properly advocate for yourself when you’re bipolar and on meds.

2. Alcohol addiction (portrayed by Lip Gallagher)

Alcoholism is the most severe form of alcohol abuse and involves the inability to manage drinking habits. It is also commonly referred to as an alcohol use disorder.

Season 6 was definitely the hardest and the most depressing season for Lip Gallagher. He is torn between alcohol craving and a fear of turning into his dad. Being expelled from college and feeling absolutely desperate, he can't stop covering his pain with alcohol.

His life turned out so that alcohol became his personal drug. Every time he gets drunk, he feels really appalling. And if he tries to tie it, then he breaks off and lies somewhere in the dirty area. Lip's Gallagher personal [censored]. That's what Jeremy Allen White says about his character ( for Vulture ):

It’s a weird cultural thing: Where he grew up, drinking is so sewn into the culture that he doesn’t know anything else. His father’s a drinker, his mother’s a drinker, he grew up in the Alibi. His neighbors run a bar. So the idea of him getting help or not drinking is such a foreign concept. It’s gonna take Lip some time — if ever — to come around to the idea that he should maybe get clean

3. PTSD (Portrayed by Mickey Milkovich)

From the first time, it was difficult to understand that behind the mask of self-confidence and independence, Mickey Milkovich hides the pain and resentment accumulated over the years. He grew up in a homophobic environment in the family of a tyrant father, and it meant that there was no place for homosexuality in Terry Milkovich's house.

Therefore, Mickey must hide who he really is by adopting the image of this tough guy. It may seem that he is cowardly, but this is his reality. This is the most daring thing ever done. 20 years of continuous mental and physical abuse, the fear that people would find out who Mickey Milkovich really was, caused PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

4. Depression (Portrayed by Fiona Gallagher)

Depression affects people in different ways and can cause a wide variety of symptoms. They range from lasting feelings of unhappiness and hopelessness to losing interest in the things you used to enjoy and feeling very tearful. Many people with depression also have symptoms of anxiety.

Treason, losing a job, family disagreements - this is what broke Fiona Gallagher in season 9. Being completely at a loss from such a quick change of position, she does not find anything better than to disguise her real emotions in alcohol. As a depressed person, she changes in her perception, in reaction to the world around her, becomes, in a sense, “not like herself”. Everything that was familiar and easy before became painful as if she was losing strength.

Always being a support for her siblings, she was unpleasantly surprised to see that they did not care about her problems and that no one extended a helping hand to her during the most difficult period of her life.

5. Agoraphobia (Portrayed by Sheila Jackson)

Agoraphobia is assumed to be a fear of open spaces. In fact, this is both the fear of being unable to leave a place or situation immediately and the fear of being away from home. The causes of agoraphobia include a traumatic event that happened to a person or witnessed. It could be a fight, an accident, etc...

Unfortunately, the reason why Sheila Jackson had agoraphobia was not named, but we were shown its consequences. The fear of going outside the house was a real torture for the woman, and she did not consider herself a functioning member of society. That's what Joan Cusack said about her role:

"I can't see not leaving your house in five years, but I can see feeling like, you know, [life is] overwhelming sometimes,"

6. Abandonment Anxiety (Portrayed by Debbie Gallagher)

Abandonment anxiety is often caused by a childhood loss. This loss could be related to a traumatic event, such as the loss of a parent through death or divorce. It can also come from not getting enough physical or emotional care.

Spending her childhood in the Gallaghers' house, Debbie had to grow up quickly from an early age and make her own decisions. Helping her older sister with the organization of a kindergarten at home, she had to take care not only of herself but also of a dozen children every day.

When the Gallaghers took an unfamiliar old woman into their home in Season 1 to introduce her as their aunt, Debbie finally got the love and care she needed so badly. During this short period of time, the hope arose in the little girl that she had found a person who would give her a good childhood, and she took the old lady's departure to her heart.

As we can see, through TV shows, the stigma around mental disorders is gradually being destroyed. We have a hope that soon the problem of mental problems will be even more widely shown on TV and this will allow more people to educate themselves.

Milana Kurash
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Writer since Jul, 2021 · 9 published articles

Hey beautiful people! Milana is a 16 years old, high school student who is passionate about writing books and novels. If she is not reading, you can find her watching Supernatural