Spoiler Alert: This is Us is More Than Entertainment – It’s Educating Audiences about Physical and Mental Health Issues

Randi Bauernshub By Randi Bauernshub

This is Us, the hugely popular NBC television program, has garnered both critical praise and a legion of loyal fans. On the show, the fictional Pearson family, shown in several stages of their lives, face very real problems that audiences have found compelling and inspirational. Much of the success of This is Us can be attributed to the show’s commitment to exploring the daily struggles we all face.

In a particularly moving video, NBC arranged for fans to share their personal stories relating to how the show has helped or inspired them. In a surprise twist, the stars of This is Us are listening off-stage and come out to meet the fans, often shedding tears of their own after hearing the real-life stories.

In just under two seasons, Rebecca and Jack, along with their children Kate, Kevin and Randall have dealt with big issues including racism, death of a loved one, and traumatic events (hello, faulty crock pot) that are becoming more common in entertainment. The Pearson family has also experienced many physical and mental health issues, including anxiety, alcoholism, weight management, drug abuse and depression. The show’s very real and unflinching portrayal of these issues makes it groundbreaking American television.

This Is Us Shows: Successful People Can Struggle with Anxiety

For example, Sterling K. Brown has won numerous awards for his striking portrayal of the Pearsons’ adopted son. When the audience meets adult Randall, he appears to be a successful family man with a successful career. However, the pressures of his job and unresolved issues lead to a breakdown and a huge change in his career and life. The show’s writers could have chosen to have Randall continue along the corporate path with no bumps in the road. However, their decision to show his struggles with anxiety and stress are helping viewers to confront their own issues without shame.

As I watch Randall’s story unfold, I am reminded of our focus on Ending Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace. The statistics related to the number of employees who suffer from untreated mental health issues are very troubling.

80% of workers with a mental health condition report that shame and stigma prevent them from seeking treatment.

-Source: National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI)

I applaud This is Us for their honest depiction of how even people who seem successful and well put together can be dealing with issues they’re afraid to address due to the stigmas that exist. By sharing Randall’s tale, This is Us is helping to break the silence about mental health issues and encourage more people to seek help. BHS offers a wide variety of mental health services through our employee assistance and wellness programs. However, they won’t help anyone if those suffering don’t take the first step to reach out for help.

This Is Us Shows: Societal Expectations of Beauty Can Be a Silent Torture

Another pioneering part of This is Us is Chrissy Metz’s portrayal of Kate Pearson. In an industry where women struggle to find work unless they fit a very specific mold, the inclusion of a character like Kate who struggles with her weight and the casting of a plus-size actress is nearly unheard of in network television.

Rather than being the stereotypical foil for jokes, Kate’s story is warm and honest. Viewers see Kate’s journey through weight loss camp, support meetings and considering bariatric surgery. Even off-screen, Metz openly discusses her weight management and anxiety issues, helping to further encourage others and break social stigmas.

This Is Us Shows: The Ripple Effects of Addiction

Kevin, the third member of the “The Big Three” played by Justin Hartley is another example of how looks can be deceiving. Hartley plays a handsome, well-known actor on the show who becomes addicted to painkillers following an injury. He also had unresolved grief issues that perpetuated his addiction. At BHS, we discuss the national opioid epidemic at length with participants and employers in our programs. Much like we’ve witnessed in real life, this character’s addiction creates a ripple effect through his family and his career.

Once again, the show’s producers do an excellent job of highlighting a common issue that your employees may be facing in their own lives. Given my position with a leading workplace health and wellness solutions provider, I kept wondering, “Aren’t any of these people covered by an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)? An EAP could really help!”

Of course, This is Us is just a television program, but it does a pretty amazing job of demonstrating the physical and mental health issues that an EAP is designed to address. While BHS can’t help fictional characters with handling life’s ups and downs, we can help your real life employees to thrive at home and in the workplace. Want to learn more? Get in touch.

Randi Bauernshub

By Randi Bauernshub, BHS Vice President, Customer Solutions

Randi is always looking for the right solutions for BHS customers. She has a knack for creating and growing relationships— consulting with customers and colleagues is her passion.