I watched the most recent episode of This Is Us, and as usual, I was blown away by the way they handle mental health; specifically anxiety, panic attacks, familial support, and Black men and therapy. If you haven’t seen this week's episode and want to avoid spoilers, please read no further! lol
Depending on how long you’ve been a fan of This Is Us, you may or may not be familiar with Randall’s challenges with anxiety. This episode does an amazing job of going through Randall’s history, into his childhood and young adulthood, to paint the picture of how anxiety has impacted him his entire life. We get a glimpse of it when he has trouble sleeping the first night The Big 3 sleep in their own “big boy/girl beds.” We then see another peak in various montages of college aged Randall processing his anxiety related to the death of his father. This shows up as having nightmares, trouble sleeping, elevated panic response to thunderstorms and fire drills at college. Each time, he has a family member or his girlfriend to assist him with managing his anxiety symptoms and eventually calming down. Even into adulthood, Randall has struggled with anxiety to the point of debilitating panic attack. All the while, relying on his siblings and wife to help him cope.
In this week’s episode, Randall enters his kitchen late one night to find a knife wielding burglar. Randal surprisingly remained calm in the moment, the burglar left, and the police were called. Randall’s emotions were elevated, as most people's would be, though he does not have a panic attack. As I watched, I wondered if Randall really had his anxiety symptoms under control at this point or if he was ignoring/suppressing them. Randall is also a city councilman and has an important council meeting shortly after the burglary. His wife, Beth, who has been in his life since college and understand his triggers, suggests that they both create time to process the big events that they have experienced in an effort to assist Randall in managing his anxiety symptoms. He handles the council meeting with control, yet he struggled to keep his anxiety symptoms at bay.
One of those people who attended the council meeting, Darnell (the father of one of Randall’s daughter’s boyfriend) visits Randall at his home the next day. Darnell mentioned that he heard about the break-in and offered empathy stating that he isn’t sure what he would do in that situation. Randall shared that running helps him manage his anxiety symptoms and Darnell shared a vulnerable moment as he discussed how therapy helps him as well as the way he got started in therapy. He even mentioned the stigma associated with mental health and Black men by saying “men who look like us don’t usually go to therapy.” Randal rebuffed Darnell’s suggestion and said that he was fine and didn’t need therapy.
Throughout the episode, Randall's anxiety symptoms were highlighted through flashbacks and trouble sleeping/nightmares since the break-in. This illuminated the pervasiveness of anxiety and how it can be a lifelong challenge. The conversation between Darnell and Randall was honest, transparent, and bold. I enjoyed how Darnell’s experience included support from his church and therapy happening simultaneously; as a common narrative about therapy/mental health and church is that they cannot work together. The way Darnell opened up about his experience was beautiful. He kept it real with Randall as it relates to Black men traditionally not being open to therapy. These are the types of conversations that shift the narrative around therapy and mental health. The more we share our experiences to those close to us, the more the stigma can be released.
Another part of this conversation that I greatly enjoyed was that an assumption about Randall and Darnell is that someone from Randals background, his SES, working a white collar job, and having access to resources may be more open to therapy than Darnell, a blue collar guy from a working class background/SES. My hope is that This Is Us continues the conversation on mental health in general and specifically as it relates to Black men. I would also love to see the show depict how Beth balances supporting a partner who has anxiety with being a mother, wife, Entreprenuer.
What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear them!
Love, live, light