Disclaimer: Information in this blog post discusses up to season two, episode ten of “Ted Lasso.”
Ted Lasso, the protagonist of my new favorite show, is an American football coach turned fútbol (soccer) coach who experiences the challenges of an unfamiliar sport while coaching at one of the highest levels in the world. Ted Lasso, in my opinion, is just your average dad who just happens to live “across the pond” from his son while coaching for AFC Richmond, an English soccer team.
While I love “Ted Lasso” for many of the same reasons millions of other viewers do (the storylines, the writing, and of course, Jason Sudeikis), I also love that it is continuing a trend we’ve seen recently in various forms of popular media: discussing hard topics. Particularly, talking about mental health.
Viewers gravitate towards Ted in part thanks to his characteristically optimistic, outgoing, and positive attitude. However, in season two, we begin to see a more vulnerable side of him: he also suffers from panic attacks. We watch as, at one point, Ted has a panic attack at a critical time during a critical match. He allows the moment to be brushed off as a physical issue – just an upset stomach. He doesn’t want his team, the press, or the attendees of the match to know what’s going on. This mechanism of concealing mental health issues also happens far too often in everyday life. Oftentimes, we don’t always see what someone is going through, especially if they’re making an effort to keep it hidden. This only continues to perpetuate a stigma around mental health.
For those who experience panic attacks, they may not tell anyone because of shame, fear, or an inability to convey what they’re experiencing. However, we know that the best way to deal with your feelings is not to keep them suppressed. In the show, Ted doesn’t talk about his panic attack for a while, but he eventually does share with his other coaches, as well as the team’s psychologist, about what really happened that day near the end of the match. What Ted did by opening up to the people he cares about is a great first step to help show those suffering how to be more comfortable, rather than being embarrassed.
In last week’s cliffhanger episode, his trust and openness are betrayed and his mental health struggle is outed publicly. The audience is left on the edge of our seats, wondering how the public will react to this news. And I’m left on the edge of my seat for another reason: what comes next either perpetuates a stigma around mental health struggles, or helps to change the way we see, value, and talk about our mental health.
Does Ted recoil in shame? Does his public outing lead to a change in trust in his capacity? Or does he do as Ted does so often, turning expectations on their heads and owning his struggle, using his affable charm to allow public support for his journey?
As a show, “Ted Lasso” is in an incredibly influential position to not only show the continued stigma around discussing mental health but more so to help end that same stigma. If the show can dive deeper into mental health and how much someone can benefit from talking with people they care about, so many lives will be positively impacted. There are likely countless people worldwide that are too nervous to speak up about how they’re feeling that would find comfort in knowing they’re not alone.
I hope not only that “Ted Lasso” continues to air, win awards, and gain international recognition, but that it also continues to be a leader in destigmatizing mental health. What comes next on tonight’s episode can either help to advance our efforts to change the culture around mental health, or it can perpetuate fear and mistrust of those with mental health struggles. I’m on the edge of my seat to see what comes next.