Of all the taboo topics Chris Gethard has covered on his show (gender fluidity and obscenity on TV, among others), the May 18 episode about mental illness is his most honest to date. The comedian has been open about his struggles with bipolar disorder and depression (especially in this Tumblr post published after Robin William’s death), and bringing that honesty to his comedy show was a delightful gift to viewers, especially those of us who may also be struggling with a mental illness.
With the help of the always hilarious Maria Bamford, who has experience herself with mental illness, the show kicked off with some phone calls as per usual, with callers telling stories that seemed awful at the time, but they can laugh about now. The first caller shared a bummer of a story about her psychiatrist in New York who ghosted on her, and only replied to her concerned text messages with a question mark. Maria revealed her own story of checking into a psychiatric treatment center, and her doctor didn’t believe she was a comedian, so he Googled her name ─ in front of her ─ and found her work on YouTube. “I just wanted to make sure you weren’t delusional,” he said.
A perfect commentary on the stigma surrounding mental health came when the character of the overzealous party planner interrupted the show, and spread her words of wisdom along with streamers and feathered boas. “Just think happy thoughts,” she insisted, “because if you think sad thoughts, then you’re dumb. They’re not real, just get them out of your head!” It’s terrible “advice” that people struggling with mental illness hear all too often; happiness is supposedly a choice, and the power of positive thinking is supposed to overrule any depressive thoughts. Her words expressed a suspicion of mental illness, but her actions proved she was on the brink of a mental breakdown.
“It’s really easy to just tell yourself to be happy,” she said, through near tears, before taping a sign to the wall that read “It’s All In Your Head.” It was a perfect way to sum up all ignorance that still surrounds mental illnesses, and how they should be treated.
The second batch of callers were from people detailing their struggles with finding the right medication, and some of the side effects they had to deal with along the way. Gethard didn’t want people to actually name the drugs for fear of getting sued by the pharmaceutical companies. So when Kevin called about a drug he was prescribed that was being touted as the “happy, horny, skinny” drug (some light Googling will reveal the popular antidepressant), it was the “horny” part that proved to be the problem. He would get middle school-era boners at the most random times, including during his shift working retail, even if there wasn’t anyone attractive around. Yikes! The lighting round revealed people who experienced lactating, falling asleep at the wheel, and cutting their hair in their sleep among other unfortunate side effects. However, Gethard reiterated that he’s “pro-drug,” at least when it comes to prescriptions for mental illness.
Since there are no greeting cards available for people struggling through mental and emotional issues (seriously someone get on that), the last bit offered to somewhat help by creating a spinning wheel filled with generic greeting cards titled “Feel Wheel Soon.” Gethard answered a Skype call from a young war vet who told the story of how he was planning on committing suicide in his car via the exhaust pipe, until his mom noticed the hose he took from her to use was missing. His mom called the police to report a missing hose (yes, a missing garden hose), and luckily a police officer came to intervene before the caller could really do any damage.
The hose part of the story had Gethard in stitches, and even he wasn’t sure why he found that so funny, but that was pretty much the point of this whole episode. If you can find a way to laugh at your situation while you are struggling, it makes it a little more bearable. The comedian proved with this episode that staying silent about your mental illness does more harm than good, and we should all have an open dialogue, especially when we are struggling. There were so many honest conversations sprinkled in throughout with Maria and co-host Shannon O’Neill that really created an open dialogue about mental health, and all the issues ─ and sometimes funny stories ─ associated with it. I just hope more artists follow suit.