'This Is Us' Season Premiere Addresses Mental Health, Alcoholism and Obesity

Julia Wood is a Communications Fellow at RespectAbility and a senior at Emerson College.

In Tuesday night’s premiere of season two of “This is Us,” viewers were reintroduced to the Pearson couple, Rebecca and Jack, played by Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore as well as “The Big Three” triplets: Kate (Chrissy Metz), Kevin (Justin Hartley) and Randall (Sterling K. Brown).

The first season dealt with issues of diversity, mental health and obesity by portraying various family members’ interactions. These themes are expected to continue through the second season.

Creator and show runner Dan Fogelman shed light on important issues that often go unspoken in today’s society: obesity and mental health. Metz struggles with her weight both on and off of the camera. In the first season, as the character Kate, she vows to lose weight in order to better her health. She falls in and out of love and addresses family drama all with the underlying story of her weight loss journey through a lens of body positivity. In the second season, Kate initially leaves an audition and then later does not get to the part, which she assumes is due to her weight. However, it is made clear that the director does not care about her weight but was simply evaluating her skills, which makes Kate happy.

Brown, who just won an Emmy for his portrayal of Randall, is making his way through fatherhood, his job and life with anxiety. According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder. Brown’s character has a panic attack toward the end of the first season, and in that moment, he is representing almost 20 percent of the population. The second season shows that Randall has quit his job and is now home taking care of his daughters and running the house.

In the season two opener, another topic brought to light was something many viewers probably have never thought of as a disability – alcoholism.

This week’s show was largely a flashback to Jack and Rebecca Pearson dealing with last season’s cliffhanger – the fate of the couple’s marriage. The previous season ended with Jack moving out of the family home and this season’s first episode ended with Rebecca inviting him to return.

“I have been drunk for weeks, and I thought I had it under control, like the first time, but I have a problem, Rebecca. And I’ve hidden it from you for a very long time. And I’ve hidden it from my kids, and I need to get a handle on it before I can walk back into that house. I’m sorry, baby. I am very embarrassed, and I am very sorry. I need to fix this on my own,” says Jack.

This is the first time in the show that Jack declares he has an alcohol use disorder.

“An alcoholic is a person with a disability and is protected by the ADA if s/he is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. An employer may be required to provide an accommodation to an alcoholic,” states the Americans with Disabilities Act. Statistics show 9.8 million men and 5.3 million women in the United States alone have an alcohol use disorder.

“This is Us” not only addresses the disorder but it also humanizes it by showing the internal effects that come with the disorder as well as the very real impact it can have on a family. “People hug me, people literally come up to me on the street and hug me,” says Ventimiglia in an interview with the Today Show.

Fogelman has assured viewers that there is more tear-jerking realness coming their way in just a week.

Hang in there gang. This will be a heavy and ultimately life affirming season. Love ya. #ThisIsUs— Dan Fogelman (@Dan_Fogelman) September 27, 2017

These portrayals in “This Is Us” help to break down stigmas about health, both physical and mental. Viewers can resonate with its story lines because they portray viewers’ lives every single day.

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Photo via “This Is Us” Facebook page.

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