7 Lessons Orange Is The New Black (OITNB) Teaches Society About Mental Health & Illness

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As many of you already know, my mother was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when I was a toddler. Watching her struggle growing up was extremely hard for me and it’s only become more difficult as time passes. You can read more about My Story here or take a look at our Last Visit Seeing My Mother for an update on her mental health. Sadly, my mother is not the only person who experiences these struggles. According to the World Health Organization, around 450 MILLION people, worldwide, suffer from some kind of mental condition(s).

In 2013 Netflix released the first episode of Orange Is The New Black. If you haven’t seen it before you should certainly check it out. This post isn’t to define what Orange Is The New Black is, it’s more to acknowledge and appreciate what it’s doing for the Mental Health / Mentally Ill community.

**Featured Image Source: People.com**

7 Lessons Orange Is The New Black Teaches Society About Mental Illness

1. Excessive use of the word “crazy” and other degrading terms

Lessons Orange Is The New Black Teaches Society About Mental Illness

Image Source: http://bit.ly/2sf6PV7

I realize often times people don’t mean to be offensive when using certain derogatory terms, but we have to learn the difference between being funny and undermining serious conditions. Many times throughout the series, everyone is constantly calling Suzanne, “crazy” or “crazy eyes.” I personally find it hard to bare because times while out with my mother, I’ve watched her struggle to swipe her card, or try to comprehend what a stranger is saying to her. I’m very observant. When people interact with my mother I always watch, I watch their mannerisms. I try to imagine what they would possibly be thinking and if they are even going to help her or just watch her struggle. It hurts me to imagine what they’re thinking when they meet someone like her. To imagine what they would have done or said to her if she were alone instead of accompanied by me. – I hate the “crazy eyes” statement because when she’s sick, my mother’s eye do look different. It depends on her mood. If she’s angry and sick, she looks enraged, possessed almost. If she’s calm and sick her eyes are very big and sad.

2. The Mistreatment

Lessons OITNB Teaches Us About Mental Illness

Image Source: http://bit.ly/2rcPgop

I imagine Lolly’s story really resonated with a lot of people. I know it did with me. Lolly’s story was probably the 2nd most heartbreaking, after Suzanne’s of course. It scares me everyday that the wrong person will meet my mother and she’ll get in a situation that she can’t come back from. Lolly and Suzanne need mental help, not to be incarcerated. Jail is for criminals. The mentally ill cannot always be held to the same standard as everyone else. Not everyone has the mental capacity to truly understand right from wrong. Lolly was hallucinating at the time of her arrest but no one took the time to get an understanding of her situation, which is ultimately the entire reason why she landed in jail anyway.

3. Social Rejection

Lessons OTINB Teaches Society About Mental Illness

Image Source: http://bit.ly/2t6V3se

It seems like no matter how hard some try, society will continue to refuse to accept them. In the photo above, while everyone is playing a game, they have Suzanne watching the clock. When Dee (who has her own agenda) presents the idea to include Suzanne, the thought is immediately discouraged and rejected with excuses.

Mentally ill people are still people and deserve to be treated as such.

4. The delusions 


Image Source: http://bit.ly/2rgyqVG

Mental illness comes in many forms. When Lorna’s character is first introduced, everyone is convinced she’s happily engaged and planning a future with the man of her dreams. She so positive and upbeat, you just have to wonder: why exactly is Lorna locked up anyway? – As time passes, we realize Lorna’s character has a severe form of mental illness. The man she’s supposed to be engaged to is actually the one who pressed charges on Lorna. Although she said he and herself were to marry, they’d actually only been on one date and she’d stalked him ever since.

5.  The fear

 Photo Credit: http://bit.ly/2rrLlzx

Although I knew my mother was ill, growing up I never truly considered how she actually felt. I’d assumed because “she was the one who created this alternate reality in her head”, it was just well, a normal thing for her. I’d never taken the time out to even ask my mother what it was like for her until I was in my late teens.

One night I caught my mother snooping around upstairs (at her old house). I remember asking her, “ma, what are you doing?” That night was the first time I’d even payed attention to how Schizophrenia really made my mother feel. She told me she’d been seeing shadows, but she’s told me that before. This time she seemed frightened and frustrated. She told me she wish they would just “go away.”

People with serious mental conditions feel like everyone else. They still get lonely and scared. 

6. The need for structure

Image Source: http://bit.ly/2reGDFX

Suzanne has a routine, she eats breakfast at a certain time, takes her medication at a certain time, eats lunch at a certain time, goes to bed at a certain time. A true creature of habit. When taken out of her routine, Suzanne becomes irritable to say the least.

7. The role it plays with chronic conditions 

Image Source: http://bit.ly/2sknsOl

Rosa was diagnosed with Cancer, as time passes we watch her character slowly become more and more withdrawn and depressed. She begins to tell people she’s going to “die in jail” – This is important. We as a society love to treat signs and symptoms but often overlook the importance of mental health which can have an impact on physical health as well.

 

 

As always, thanks for reading.

Before you go: What are some lessons you’ve taken away about mental health from TV? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

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  • I don’t always find mental illness is portrayed in the best light on TV and its sometimes difficult to watch when they are using such a misunderstood illness badly for entertainment value. I do love orange is the new black though

    • Yes I deff agree sometimes it can be portrayed badly (depending on what it is). I think Orange is the New Black does a pretty good job though, especially with actually coming from a household with a Schizophrenic mother, a lot of things on Orange is the New Black is hard for me to watch because it’s spot on.

  • Thanks for this blog. I have loved ones, students, clients and such habe had emotional disturbances. They deserve to be trested with dignity and respect. Xoxo

  • Interesting review! I personally have not started watching the show but my sister raves about it so I will check it out soon. It interests me how much mental health/illness shows up in TV shows or movies and how it’s portrayed. I often wonder if there is an underlying message that the film maker was trying to convey. Thanks for sharing!

  • Great post! I honestly never gave much thought to mental illness. I try always to be mindful that people have their struggles and still treat people kind. We see more and more mental illness these days and need a better way to address it to help in earlier stages.

  • I like your spin on the series. It’s one of my faves (I finished the last season in about a day!) and I like how you see the characters as people.

  • Thanks for this article! First, I love OITNB and find that it does a good job addressing the mental health challenges that the characters experience. I am also a mental health therapist and work with youth who experience mental illness. I appreciate your candid approach in this article and will be sharing!