6 TV Shows That Got Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms (Mostly) Right
Editor’s Note: The following post contains spoilers for the TV shows mentioned.
So much stigma surrounds borderline personality disorder (BPD). Finding a TV show that accurately depicts it can feel like an impossible task. Most only know BPD based on stereotypes, and because of this, it’s easy to question whether compassionate depictions of BPD and its symptoms exist in pop culture at all.
While it can seem like Hollywood either portrays BPD badly or not at all, a few of our readers have pointed out some TV shows they believe accurately depict symptoms people with BPD experience, even when the characters are not officially diagnosed. With recommendations from our BPD community, we analyzed six TV shows to see how they portrayed symptoms of borderline personality disorder.
“Love” is a romantic comedy series on Netflix that follows Mickey Dobbs (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus Cruikshank (Paul Rust) and explores male and female perspectives on love. Though Mickey is never given the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, many people with BPD relate to her actions that appear to be motivated by common BPD symptoms. As Mighty community member Jaimi W. commented,
[Mickey] can be impulsive, fears and goes to great lengths to avoid abandonment, has rocky and unstable relationships [and] abuses alcohol and drugs. She’s constantly trying to get her life together, but slips up a lot. I felt a real connection with her after watching a few episodes and I’m in awe at how well I could relate to a character like that.
While it’s refreshing to see a humanizing take on some BPD symptoms like these, it’s also notable that the show doesn’t go overboard and romanticize living with these symptoms. In her piece, “How I Relate to Mickey From ‘Love’ as Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder,” Mighty contributor Rachel Sloan wrote that while she identifies with Mickey, she isn’t an altogether “lovable” character.
“Love” gives the audience a glimpse into the daily turmoil of life with symptoms of borderline personality disorder. Mickey is not necessarily a lovable character, and she is exceptionally stubborn and selfish at times. Still, the audience is able to see her perspective in a way that doesn’t necessarily justify or excuse her behavior, but does allow for empathy for her experience.
Where you can watch: Streaming on Netflix
2. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”
“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is a musical comedy-drama series on The CW following Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) as she moves from New York to California to follow and try to win back her childhood ex-boyfriend, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III). In season 3, Rebecca is officially diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
Perhaps the most obvious symptom of BPD portrayed in the series is emotional intensity, present in Rebecca’s relationship with Josh. For example, every episode title of the three seasons includes Josh’s name, highlighting the intense emotional attachment Rebecca has to him.
“For me it was spot on, her life was almost like my life on TV,” Mighty community member Sophie S. commented. “She portrayed BPD perfectly for me.”
While many agree BPD and the symptom of emotional intensity is depicted well in the show, some believe it falls short in depicting how debilitating BPD can be to live with. Mighty community member Carissa W. wrote of the show,
I think ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ depicts [BPD] in a light hearted way. Realistically it’s a lot more painful, not as surfaced. I like how the character doesn’t take herself too seriously and she captures the way she’s in her own world very well. Other than that, it’s a pretty far off portrayal of how detrimental it can be.
Where you can watch: Seasons one and two streaming on Netflix
“Skins” is a British TV drama following the lives of a group of teenagers. It’s notable for exploring complex issues like dysfunctional family dynamics, mental illness, sexuality and bullying. The character Effy Stonem in particular exhibits mental health symptoms people with BPD have identified with. Mighty contributor Kirann S. wrote she identified with Effy because of many of her actions.
She is so scared to trust people and love them and often engages in self-destructive behaviors. [She] has a lot of sudden mood changes, shows impulsive behaviors and willingly engages in things that are bad for her to try and fill the void. [She] manipulates and plays with peoples’ emotions and [I related to] her coping with traumatic events (her brother’s accident and her parents’ divorce).
While it’s important to depict the hardships that can often come with mental health struggles, sometimes pop culture depictions can go too far and end up glamorizing life with a mental illness. Blogger Alex Bach elaborates on this in his piece, “‘Skins’ and the Glamourising of Mental Illnesses.”
Effy is one of the most popular “Skins” characters, portrayed as beautiful and complicated. If anything though, her storylines glamorize mental health problems as something that will make you increasingly desirable to boys who want to “fix” you. Her depiction of mental health, although at times gritty and bordering on realistic, is mostly based around a fantastical perception in which mental problems make you increasingly attractive and interesting.
Where you can watch: Streaming on Netflix
“Suits” is a legal drama series following the bright college dropout Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) who works secretly as a law associate for Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) despite never attending law school. Though not a main character, Harvey’s rival Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) may exhibit some symptoms that are typical of borderline personality disorder. Mighty community member Shannon G. wrote of Louis,
This is a rogue answer but Louis from “Suits” actually does fit the profile of BPD. He is widely emotional and has sharp bursts of anger, he pushes people away when he is most vulnerable and yet is deathly afraid of rejection and abandonment — especially from Harvey. In the most recent season, he is impulsive and gets very caught in his own mind and seems to torture himself out of self-loathing.
Though Louis does not have the diagnosis of BPD, it is important to see a man go through mental health struggles in popular culture — despite the fact he is often viewed as a morally bankrupt character.
Where you can watch: Streaming on Amazon Prime
“UnREAL” is a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making a reality TV show, satirizing the popular dating show, “The Bachelor.” The show follows producer Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby) as she returns to the set of “Everlasting” after experiencing a mental health-related breakdown. During the show, we learn Rachel has received numerous mental health diagnoses in her life (including borderline personality disorder) from her therapist mother, Dr. Olive Goldberg (Mimi Kuzyk).
As we see Rachel work, we quickly see she is the best at her job — primarily because of the way she is able to “produce” (a.k.a. manipulate) the girls on the show. And while being “manipulative” is an unfair label people with BPD are often given, the show makes it clear that Rachel is deeply uncomfortable with this aspect of her job, and although she engages in manipulative behavior, is not a “manipulative person.” Mighty community member Kaytlynn D. elaborated on this aspect of the show when she wrote,
[The show] puts emphasis on how she’s taken advantage of for her BPD traits to use them in negative ways that cause her to have recurring triggers… it’s pretty good without predominantly being about the illness, but the illness is definitely a contributing factor of her power character.
So why does Rachel continue to engage in the manipulative behavior she loathes? The answer may be related to a relational struggle people with BPD may be familiar with: repeating familiar but broken relationship patterns.
Because Rachel has an unhealthy relationship with her domineering therapist mother, she seems to seek out a new maternal figure in her boss Quinn King (Constance Zimmer). She engages in the behavior she is trying to distance herself from because she aims to please Quinn above all else. Show co-creator Sarah Gertrude Shapiro said of Rachel and Quinn’s relationship, “Rachel is continuously trying to evolve her broken relationship with her own mother and have a different response.” And while Quinn is perhaps slightly better to Rachel than her mother is, folks with BPD may relate to how Rachel repeats a past unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship pattern because it is familiar to her.
Where you can watch: Streaming on Hulu
“Riverdale” is a Netflix series based on characters created by Archie Comics and follows the small-town murder investigation after the death of the Blossom twins. Though not diagnosed with any mental illness in particular, some people with BPD have identified with one of the main characters, Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart). Betty’s mental health struggles display outwardly with perfectionism and self-harm, but folks with “quiet” BPD may also be able to relate to the subtle way her intense emotions appear to implode, rather than explode. Mighty community member Rebecca G. commented on this aspect of Betty’s character.
Although it may just seem like a teenage drama show, I think “Riverdale” depicts BPD or general mental illness quite accurately. Although she isn’t diagnosed, the main character, Betty, definitely has traits of BPD, such isolating herself, [having] an alternative persona she uses when she’s scared and angry, obvious signs of anxiety, mild self-harm and feeling an immense pressure to be perfect. I relate to Betty because even though these are BPD traits and BPD is often portrayed as outwardly angry or dangerous, Betty instead tends to implode, rather than explode and that is definitely a way that I deal with BPD.
Rebecca is not the only person who identified with the way Betty seems to “act in” rather than “act out.” In an interview with Teen Vogue, actress Lili Reinhart (who plays Betty) said if she could give mental health advice to Betty, she would say,
She needs to seek help… She’s very private about her dark side, and doesn’t want to talk about it, or acknowledge it necessarily… I would hope that Betty would find a way to communicate her mental struggles to Jughead, or to Archie, or to her mom, in a way that would help her ease her own mind. And, maybe go to therapy. Find an outlet that will help her, so she isn’t digging her nails into her hands and she isn’t keeping all this anxiety bottled up. She needs to have a way to work through it. She’s young and doesn’t know how to work through her own mental illness.
Where you can watch: Streaming on Netflix
What TV show would you add?
Lead photo via “Riverdale” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Facebook pages