Mental health recovery happens One Day at a Time

David Moreno


The mental health stigma has drastically changed  within the last few years, yet the media still does not talk about it as openly as it should. Mental health is still considered a taboo topic, and is therefore shunned in conversations. The reboot of Netflix’s One Day At A Time has challenged that notion and given television the most honest and realistic take on depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse.

The streaming giant Netflix rebooted the 1975 television sitcom, One Day At A Time in 2017, this time supporting a diverse cast of Cuban-Americans living in Los Angeles, LGBTQIA+ characters, and discussions about mental illness. It follows a single mother war veteran who struggles with depression, anxiety, and PTSD while raising her son, lesbian daughter, and taking care of  her mother. The show had released  its third season before Netflix cancelled it on March 14, 2019.

The Alvarez family in a supportive embrace as they tackle mental illnesses. together.  COURTESY OF  OPRAH MAGAZINE

The Alvarez family in a supportive embrace as they tackle mental illnesses. together. COURTESY OF OPRAH MAGAZINE

One Day at a Time has been praised for its representation and portrayal of LGBTQIA+ characters, especially Elena Alvarez, played by Isabella Gomez. For more on this, see Arts & Entertainment on page six. Additionally, what the show also does extremely well is represent mental health in an honest and accurate way. 

There are two episodes in particular that stand out: Season 2, Episode 9, “Hello Penelope” and Season 3, Episode 9, “Anxiety.” The first episode deals directly with Penelope when she decides to take herself off of her prescribed antidepressants and stops attending her support group meetings. Although we learn that she had been off her medication for weeks, we are taken along the ride of her depressive episode over the span of 3 days. We see her as she begins to question her actions, snap at the people closest to her, begin to lack motivation, and have hopeless thoughts. 

The quick change in Penelope’s attitude is what struck me the hardest, as it very closely mirrored the type of change that I went through during my depression. One day I feel like I am fine and happy only to wake up the very next morning with no motivation to get out of bed, feelings of worthlessness, and a large pressure on my chest. Watching, helplessly, as I see this character go through the exact same experience I went through brought tears to my eyes. Never had I seen a depiction of depression so accurate to my experiences and to so many others as well. 

In the latter episode, a season later, we are thrown into Penelope’s psyche as we experience having three anxiety attacks, with her. Once again, it is realistic as we see her hyperventilate,  experience an overwhelming sense of fear, palpitations, and uncontrollable sobbing. We are also introduced to the triggers of her attacks that are common to many people: school, parenting, relationships, and careers. What makes this depiction different from others is that we see the progression from normalcy to the anxiety attack, and how she is able to cope and de-escalate the attack. 

Again, it is how quickly the anxiety attacks come that makes this depiction of anxiety so realistic. Anxiety attacks can be triggered with no warning or signs, making it difficult to live with. It mirrors the experiences I went through so closely it is almost frightening. When Penelope is having an anxiety attack, the saturation drops to almost black and white, creating an almost dreamlike, cloudy effect. When I would go through an anxiety attack, I would often feel as if I was outside my body in a haze and my mind was in a cloudy funk. Once again, I watched the scenes holding back tears and feeling a tightness in my chest.

One Day at a Time does a fantastic job of normalizing mental health and disorders that are associated with it. Both of these episodes end with a message that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and that talking about it openly can help in coping with it. There is one instance where Penelope confides in her landlord/best friend, and he compares her depression to having to wear corrective glasses. While it is a very crude comparison, it raises a very valid point that mental illness is just like any other illness of the body and that it can be treated similarly. 

It is a shame that the show will not have a chance to continue and explore more topics. The possibilities that it has are endless, and it still deserves to be the representation that people need. It has taught that being open about your experiences is therapeutic and can help with treatment of certain mental illness. While it is not suggesting the cure for mental illness, it begins the dialogue for healthy discussions on the topic. There is a great quote that is spoken by a priest that Penelope’s mother turns to when she doesn’t know how to help her daughter which goes: “Well, just because you don’t feel those things doesn’t mean they aren’t real for her.”