Chicago Med: When Mental Illness and Law collide

Chicago Med: When Mental Illness and Law collide

Marta Lopera Mármol

Vice President of ISMA

Director of Communications

Introduction

In the 10th episode of season 3 of Chicago Med (NBC, 2015-) the medical drama spin-off of the somewhat successful but not-so-good Chicago Fire (NBC, 2012-), medicine takes on a new turn when its juggled within legalities and mental illness. Before revealing any spoiler, I invite you to watch the clip which narrates the story I am going to analyze.

Synopsis  (*Spoiler Alert*)

In this Chicago Med episode, psychiatrist Dr. Charles is convinced something is off when Dr.Sara treats a man, Mr. Dietrick, that seems to have at first sight a minor injury due to a car hit. His particular assertion in the case is both unsettling and worrisome. As the episode goes on, Dr. Charles becomes convinced that the injured is not a mere accident but a suicide attempt, forcing him to hold Mr. Dietrick in the psychiatric ward against his will and despite his insistence that it was all an accident. By the end, Dr. Charles reveals that Mr.Dietrick suffers from endogenous depression and provokes Mr. Dietrick to reveal he stopped taking his anti-depressants meds.

Pros +

The episode effectively portrayals depression as a mental illness that can affect anyone, even the “perfect picture” person with a successful but also extremely demanding job which in this case and far from being a casualty turns out to be a lawyer. The fact, that the diagnosis is made by a character that has the legitimacy to do so since he is a psychiatrist allows to break in a sense the “stigma wall.” Doctors tend to be more “credible characters” and knowing the effects TV series can have on people, this type of diagnosis made by someone that “has the power to do so” might evoke those spectators that are suffering from depression or have similar symptoms to seek actual help. Therefore, turning this audiovisual piece into an edutainment[1] audiovisual product.

Furthermore, the diagnosis is concrete, showing the broad spectrum of particular mental illness such as depression. Also, it shows how mental illness is as important as physical. Dr. Charles quotes: “It is caused by your brain chemistry,” this is particularly relevant since hints not only a genetic predisposition but also a biological origin. The fact that the patient covers up his feelings as said in the TV series: “You become a Master of disguise” allows a realistic representation of patients affected by depression; the fear of stigma, the defensive attitude as said in the clip: “Englight me Dr. Freud”,  is a common attitude that is often a struggle psychiatrist suffer, and the guilt of the patient as Mr. Dietrick says: “ I have absolutely no excuse to be sad” and the great answer by Dr. Charles: “You don’t need an excuse man you are a human being” creates the imagery that mental illness is not something people choose to have or something to justify an act but instead is a clinical reality like any other.

In conclusion, the episode does one of the best declarations they can do that “depression is not a weakness,” and that it can be presented as many forms, leaving behind the stereotype of the depressed patient constantly crying and being sad. 

Cons –

Despite its reasonable efforts, the episode fails in three main aspects. Firstly, on representing a broader range of gender, class, and race. Is yet again presented by a white male of an upper-high class. Secondly, while depression does have a medication treatment that can be effective, usually selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, Mr. Dietrick is experiencing suicide thoughts due to the fact that he stopped taking his anti-depressant medication which leads to the idea of what Stephen Harper (2009: 103) defines as “equilibrium-breakdown-recovery” and forgetting other aspects of recovery such as one on one therapy, group support, etc. and lastly, while depression is closely linked to suicide so are other illnesses such as bipolar disorder, PSTD, substance consumption i.e. drugs or alcohol, etc. (Estrada 2016). Suicide is a more complex and multifactorial phenomenon that the show represents.

References

Estrada-Rangil, Oriol. 2016. “Olive Kitteridge y la depresión”. In La medicina en las series de televisión edited by Toni de la Torre,  111-118. Barcelona:Cuadernos de la Fundación Dr. Antonio Esteve.

Harper, Stephen. 2009. Madness, Power and the Media. Class Gender and Race in Popular Representations of Mental Distress. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

[1] Edutainment can be defined as the process of entertaining people at the same time as you are teaching them something through different mediums such as television series.