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Mental illness media and the paradox of ‘productivity’ in Elementary and Limitless

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This article examines representations of mental illness in North American network television. It is particularly drawn to the CBS police procedurals Elementary (2012–present) and Limitless (2015) as distinct but overlapping stories of mental illness, addiction and intellectual labour. Though depression, drug addiction and anxiety disorders are treated differently in each series, Elementary and Limitless offer complementary narratives of occupational therapy that equate work with mental well-being. While they seem to present a positive image of mentally ill characters with meaningful jobs, Elementary and Limitless measure mental fitness by one’s capacity to work in the same industries often linked to mental illnesses in the first place, resulting in a paradox of productivity. Here the television programmes, much like occupational therapy, tend to overlook critical questions about the socio-economic underpinnings of psychological disorders and encourage viewers to understand the links between mental illness and work in rather myopic ways.
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Keywords: US television; addiction; labour; late capitalism; mental illness; occupational therapy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Lethbridge

Publication date: October 1, 2018

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