Netflix Original Programming and Representations of Mental Health Edited Collection

deadline for submissions: 
January 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Edited Collection
contact email: 

Research across a swath of scholarly disciplines and methodologies over the past several decades has pointed to the primacy of popular culture in shaping people’s attitudes toward mental health and illness (Chouinard; Eisenhauer; Gans-Boriskin and Wardle; Heath; Johnson; Packer; Rayborn and Keyes; Wahl; Whitley, Adeponle, and Miller; and Whitley and Berry; Wilson et al., for some examples, all of whom also cite extensive research from diverse fields). For members of the mental health field, in whatever stripe, this can be disheartening at worst and confusing at best. 

But at the same time as scholars across the academy (and beyond) have expanded and continued their research, the world of popular culture and media has expanded, as well. With the Internet’s integration into our lives and the rise of streaming and mail services, there’s been a shift in how we engage with entertainment media. 

Begun in 1997 as a DVD-rental-by-mail company, the now-familiar Netflix has become the most recognizable symbol of the shifting ways emerging generations engage with media. The service seems to be at the heart of changes from when and how we watch TV and movies to what we watch. In 2013, the company began producing its own series and movies, now a flagship enterprise. Among its increasingly large roster of original programming, Netflix includes many shows with intriguingly complex and diverse depictions of characters engaging with mental health and illness. From Jessica Jones, a private eye with superhuman strength struggling with substance abuse and PTSD, to Big Mouth’s Jesse, interacting with personifications of depression and adolescence, the behemoth’s creators have incorporated characters and storylines with multifaceted messages about mental health. Based on the work of Wahl and others, we should expect the storylines to both reflect and be reflected in conversations about mental health and illness. 

This edited collection lives at that intersection of popular culture being both an instrument of education and change and the indicator of already occurring shifts in the culture at large. By focusing on Netflix original programming, this collection seeks to engage critically with depictions of mental health and illness in one of the most watched and most impactful educational arenas for mental health in the general public. 

Rather than diagnosing or analyzing the accuracy of depictions of mental health elements, prospective authors should address the wider cultural implications of these discursive constructions. Authors might consider the following questions in crafting their abstract proposals:

-What narratives of mental health and illness do the representations in Netflix original programming complicate, reify, rectify, or problematically reinforce?

-What implications do these narratives have for both popular and academic understandings of mental health?

-How are viewers invited to or distanced from embodying characters living with mental illness?

-How does the representation(s) problematize the concept of “madness” as a literary heuristic?

-What opportunities for intersectional analyses, including those involving gendered, racialized, classed and/or ableist depictions, are possible through this proposed work? 

-How are systems and discourses surrounding mental health and illness, including health care workers, portrayed? 

This CFP would be of particular interest for those in the fields of rhetoric, women and gender studies, disability studies, sociology and other cultural studies fields. Essays focusing on any Netflix original programming will be considered, but are particularly welcomed on:
13 Reasons Why
Big Mouth
Better Call Saul
BoJack Horseman
Dead to Me
Russian Doll
The Haunting of Hill House
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt


Final essays will be 6,000-8,000 words, including notes and citations. For consideration, a 500-700 word abstract, including title and beginning works cited is due Jan. 15, 2020. Abstracts should be in MLA style and use American English spelling. Acceptance notification will occur no later than April 15, 2020. Questions and abstracts can be sent to Emily Katseanes at


Chouinard, Vera. "Placing the 'Mad Woman': Troubling Cultural Representations of being a Woman with Mental Illness in Girl Interrupted." Social & Cultural Geography, vol. 10, no. 7, 2009, pp. 791-804.

Eisenhauer, Jennifer. "A Visual Culture of Stigma: Critically Examining Representations of Mental Illness." Art Education, 2008, pp. 13-18.

Gans-Boriskin, Rachel and Claire Wardel. “Mad or Bad? Negotiating the Boundaries of Mental Illness on Law & Order.” Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 12 (1) 26-46.

Heath, Erin. Mental Disorders in Popular Film. Lexington Books, US, 2019.

Johnson, Davi A. “Managing Mr. Monk: Control and the Politics of Madness.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, Vol. 25, No. 1, March 2008, 28-47.

Packer, Sharon, editor. Mental Illness in Popular Culture. Praeger, Santa Barbara, California, 2017.

Rayborn, Tim, and Abigail Keyes, editors. Jessica Jones, Scarred Superhero : Essays on Gender, Trauma and Addiction in the Netflix Series. McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers, Jefferson, 2018.

Wahl, Otto F. "Mass Media Images of Mental Illness: A Review of the Literature." Journal of Communication Psychology, no. Vol 20, 1992, pp. 343-352.

Whitley, Rob, Ademola Adeponle, and Anna Miller. "Comparing Gendered and Generic Representations of Mental Illness in Canadian Newspapers: An Exploration of the Chivalry Hypothesis." Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, vol. 50, no. 2, 2015, pp. 325-333. MEDLINE,, doi:10.1007/s00127-014-0902-4.

Whitley, Rob, and Sarah Berry. "Analyzing Media Representations of Mental Illness: Lessons Learnt from a National Project." Journal of Mental Health, vol. 22, no. 3, 2013, pp. 246-253. MEDLINE,, doi:10.3109/09638237.2012.745188.

Wilson, Claire, et al. "Mental Illness Depictions in Prime-Time Drama: Identifying the Discursive Resources." Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 33, no. 2, 1999, pp. 232-239. MEDLINE.