Hollywood's Zoloft Blow-Off
A TV comedy writer on a town's mental health hypocrisy
Trigger warning: this piece contains jokes about mental illness. If you have a problem with that, I’m happy to show you my medical records and a trunk of CVS receipts. I write for The Ankler under a pseudonym for obvious reasons.
Recently, I talked to a younger writer who had just finished her first week on a new show. On the first day, the showrunner made a point of making health a priority. Covid testing was mandatory, and people were encouraged to take the day off if they felt sick. This was encouraging, a far cry from the old days when “come to work unless you’re dead, or you’re dead” was the rule. Still, when she told me she was a few minutes late that Friday because of a therapy appointment, I got worried. “Okay but you didn’t actually say it was a therapy appointment. You made up another reason. Right?”
“No,” she said. Her boss had literally just told everyone that health was a priority. And mental health was just as important as physical health. Descartes was full of shit: the mind and body are one. A depressed person needing Celexa was no different than a diabetic needing insulin. I nodded. Then I said, “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN. Tell him your mom died. Tell him a tree fell on your garage. Tell him you had a ‘girl problem,’ he won’t want to know any more. Anything but ‘I was at therapy.’”
“But he said–”
“He’s full of shit! This is the most hypocritical business on Earth. Always assume they’re full of shit until proven otherwise.”
I know it sounds harsh, but I was trying to help. I knew who her boss was. He was older. A Boomer. Or maybe not technically a Boomer. A Boomer-Gen X cusp. Either way, I knew instinctively that he was the kind of person who, despite saying all the right things he’d been ordered to say in whatever HR-mandated struggle session they’d wrangled him into attending, would ultimately balk at a writer coming in late because of a therapy appointment. He and his cohort had been programmed to see missing work as laziness and asking for help as weakness. Older Gen X liberals may talk the talk and tweet the tweet when it comes to politics, but when it comes to their own career success, it’s Ayn Rand time! This guy probably had a Wellbutrin prescription and a few therapy anecdotes of his own, but an employee’s mental health wasn’t going to get in the way of making CBS’ 14th most popular show. Not on his watch. He and I were both, in our own ways, the exemplars of Hollywood’s new Mental Health Generation Gap.