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How 'This Is Us' Unravels Stigma Around Anxiety, Health and Addiction

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

“This Is Us,” the popular television series by Dan Fogelman, is unraveling the stigma around anxiety, addressing physical health and alluding to an upcoming plot-line with a heavy focus on addiction.

Not only is the show written in a way that people can connect with, but it is also inviting the everyday viewer to join the conversation about the inclusion of people with disabilities.

Spoilers ahead.

In the most recent episode, viewers were reintroduced to Randall’s anxiety disorder.

“I just wanted to say that I’ve had two nervous breakdowns in my life, one right before Tess was born and one just earlier this year and they happen when I let myself get stressed out and it just builds up inside and then Boom (makes exploding gesture),” Randall says to his new foster daughter, Deja. “But one of the things that helps me when I am feeling stressed out is running. I run like everyday — it just helps me clear my mind. So if you ever feel like you want to, I would love to go running with you.”

In season one, Randall had a panic attack. Now in season two, the character played by Sterling K. Brown, who won an Emmy for his portrayal of Randall, is addressing it again and this time through a dialogue that is meant to not only engage and educate his daughter but also television viewers. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder.

Viewers also witnessed Kate (Chrissy Metz) working through her own feelings of her health. Kate is preparing to sing at a Bat Mitzvah and is rigorously working out in order to be able to fit into a green and black lace dress. Kate has struggled with her weight since the first episode of season one. Viewers who are used to seeing her get emotional about her weight more recently saw her stand up for herself, helping to change stigma and promote body positivity. It is not until the end of this episode, however, that viewers learn Kate is so attentively watching her weight because she is pregnant.

The teaser for next week’s episode hinted that in the next coming weeks, Kevin (Justin Hartley) might deal with an opioid misuse disorder and addiction following surgery.

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.

“This Is Us” airs at 9:00 p.m. on Tuesdays on NBC.

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Originally published: October 25, 2017
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