How 'Please Like Me' addressed mental health in the LGBTQ community, and why it matters

The first time I heard of the Australian sitcom Please Like Me was at my university, during a screening of an episode where Arnold, the protagonist`s boyfriend, has a panic attack in the middle of a romantic beach scene with lead character, Josh. That particular scene hooked me to watch the entire series, because I had never before seen a queer person on television have a genuine and relatable moment of panic.

Please Like Me aired its series finale last year after a four season run with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), and Pivot (which ended operations in October 2016), and Hulu in the U.S. The series, which has been nominated in Outstanding Comedy Series at the GLAAD Media Awards three years in a row, has earned well-deserved praise for its groundbreaking portrayal of issues of LGBTQ identity and mental health.

The show features several queer characters, including Josh (series creator Josh Thomas), his boyfriend Arnold, and their friend, Hannah. The latter two also live with anxiety and depression, respectively. The series presents all this with realness and dark comedy, and is one of very few shows to feature LGBTQ characters struggling with mental health.

Arnold and Hannah are both introduced as patients at the same clinic. The series presents them in such a way that neither their sexualities nor their mental health are their sole defining characteristics, but those identities still play significant roles in their lives.Arnold, played by Keegan Joyce

Arnold`s relationship with Josh is often a source of anxiety for him. While he cares deeply for Josh, he requests that they maintain an open relationship. Despite his anxiety, Arnold comes out to his parents - with Josh`s help - and although his parents are not particularly welcoming, it helps Arnold become more comfortable with himself. His moments of panic are not overplayed, but are instead realistic and subtle, while not diminishing their severity.

Hannah is being treated for depression alongside Rose, Josh`s Hannah (on the left) and Rose (on the right)mother, and they provide each other with support and companionship. In the final season, Hannah finally gets a romantic interest—an ex-girlfriend who wants to reconnect, taking Hannah`s character on a journey from a place of self-harm to the beginning of a healthy relationship.

Please Like Me is not the only show to address mental health in the LGBTQ community, but it is one of very few to do so in a nuanced way. FOX`s Empire recently added a storyline in which one of the main characters, Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett), suffers from PTSD. In Showtime`s Shameless, Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan) has bipolar disorder, which is one of many motivations for his often uncouth behavior. However, not all portrayals have been as humanely done.

Fair and accurate portrayals are crucial, and the LGBTQ community is in dire need of such representation. According to recent studies, depression strikes gay men at six times the rate of straight men, and LGB youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. In addition, LGBTQ individuals that keep their sexuality or gender identity hidden are at an increased risk of psychological distress. This prevents them from accessing group-based coping resources that buffer against the negative effects of stigma.

By seeing characters going after the help they need, LGBTQ individuals might be influenced to seek that care themselves, because representation can help dissolve the stigmas surrounding mental health and the LGBTQ community. These portrayals can diminish a feeling of otherness, and allows for a conversation about topics that are still massive elephants in the room for many people.

We do not need more miserable and dying LGBTQ characters—television has killed too many already—but what we need are queer characters who face the adversity that is mental illness in a healthy and successful manner. We need characters who fight these struggles and win, and most importantly, we need them to feel real. Please Like Me feels incredibly real, while still drawing laughter with its off-beat humor. The series ended in December 2016, but it has set an example that other shows can follow in regards to LGBTQ characters struggling with their mental health.

All four seasons of Please Like Me are available to watch streaming on Hulu.