These Movies And TV Shows Depict The Complicated Reality Of Postpartum Mental Health

It’s no longer a taboo subject, but accurate and compassionate on-screen depictions of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders like PPD are still few and far between.

New Parents Issue 2024

On screen, new parents are often portrayed as either blissed out and lovestruck by their new bundle of joy, or frazzled and overwhelmed (in a charmingly temporary way). And while it’s sweet to see your favorite characters fall in love with their new babies, the reality for many new parents is more complicated. Research indicates that between 15 and 20% of new mothers will experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) either during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. While strides have been made in recent years to de-stigmatize the condition, we still have a long way to go, and on-screen depictions play an important role in raising awareness and encouraging new parents to speak up and get help.

During our informal survey, we found more examples of babies being born in elevators than portrayals of PMADs that are honest, sensitive, and realistic. And while it’s true that postpartum mental health isn’t exactly a feel-good subject that can be resolved neatly in 30 minutes (or an hour, or even a season) the territory is rich, the experience is common, and the gift of feeling seen and understood is invaluable.

Our search wasn’t entirely fruitless, however. We were reminded of old favorites and grateful for new strides. If you find yourself in the thick of it, you may want to inhale them immediately or avoid at all costs. Tread lightly, and know these characters will be there for you when you’re ready. Whether you watch or not, let their existence be another reminder that, even by slow-moving Hollywood standards, you aren’t alone.

Carla | Scrubs


When Turk and Carla bring baby Isabella home, Turk immediately begins filming a video for his daughter to watch on her 16th birthday. But when he heads to the nursery to show future Isabella “how happy your mom was the day we brought you home,” he discovers his wife crying as she attempts to nurse.

“I can’t do this,” she says desperately. “We have to take her back.”

Like many moms struggling with PPD, Carla is too ashamed to seek help. She knows she’s struggling, but she admitting that would be an affront to her sense of self, both professionally (“I’ve been a nurse for 15 years. What are they going to tell us that we don’t already know?”) and personally (“I’ve always wanted to be a mother, but now I feel like I might not be cut out for it”).

Ultimately, it takes another mother, Jordan, to convince Carla to get help. Yes, this is an example of a TV show where a character’s PPD is “solved” in an episode, but Judy Reyes’ performance is a heartbreaking, true-to-life depiction of what it can be like.

Stream Scrubs on Hulu.

Marlo | Tully

After the birth of an unplanned child, Marlo struggles to find equilibrium in her new role as a mother of three. The obliviousness of her loving husband does not help. After a particularly emotional incident at her son’s school, Marlo hires a night nanny, Tully. She is taken in by Tully’s youthful enthusiasm, and relies on her more and more around the house. In time, the depth of Marlo’s struggle becomes clear, and even Tully’s magic touch can’t fix it. Bonus: this movie features one of the best depictions of half-awake baby changing in cinema.

Stream Tully on Netflix.

Frankie | Workin’ Moms


The show Workin’ Moms was creator and star Catherine Reitman’s effort to write through the different aspects of her postpartum self — anger, vanity, ambition, depression — with a soothing degree of sitcom levity. Frankie announces in the very first episode that she has “the teensiest little drop of postpartum.” Over time, it becomes apparent that this is more than just “baby blues” and that she needs outside help to get through it. “I know there’s something wrong with me,” she says in a later episode. “Not even wrong, but broken.” Refreshingly, Frankie’s problems aren’t solved over the course of one episode, but there is hope throughout.

Stream Workin’ Moms on Netflix.

Rachel | Fleishman Is In Trouble


This limited series, based on the bestselling novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, highlights the various ways pregnancy and birth can unravel a person. Rachel, wife of the titular Fleishman, finds pregnancy itself disorienting, but a violating exam at the hands of an OB during birth leaves her spiraling. She struggles to bond with her daughter, and we watch as she slips further into what looks like a postpartum mental health crisis. Whether it’s PPA or PTSD from her delivery experience, it’s clear Rachel is deeply isolated and unable to ask for with help from those around her, to devastating effect. It’s a painful but potent portrayal, beautifully acted by Claire Danes, that we recommend checking out once you’re on the other side.

Stream Fleishman Is In Trouble on Hulu.

Juliette | Nashville


Juliette is a country music sensation with a thriving career, but none of that is a guarantee of mental wellness. When Juliette finds herself unable to bond with her daughter, her denial only make things worse. Hayden Panettiere told Women’s Health that she herself was struggling with postpartum depression and a complicated romantic relationship at the time, which adds another layer to her emotional performance.

Stream Nashville on Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

Petra | Jane the Virgin


After the birth of twins Elsa and Anna (“Like Frozen?” “No.”), perfectly put-together Petra finds herself unable to connect with her girls. Though she and Jane have had their differences in the past (big, messy, telenovela-style differences), Jane takes Petra to the Mommy and Me class that had been a source of comfort and support for her after the birth of her son, Mateo.

Petra finds solace in the fact that she’s not the only new mom struggling and second-guessing parenthood, but when someone suggests she might have PPD, she storms off, angry and hurt by what feels like an accusation. Jane gives her the number of a doctor who might be helpful, which Petra accepts, but we appreciate the very real initial rejection of a diagnosis, and the fear that comes with recognition.

Stream Jane the Virgin on Netflix.

Julie | A Mouthful of Air

Julie is a children’s book author blissfully moving through new motherhood with her deeply compassionate husband and baby son. But over time, her joy fades into an all-consuming depression that ultimately leads to — fair warning — a suicide attempt. While recovering, Julie discovers she is once again pregnant, and realizes she must grapple with her mental health struggles, which may indeed have begun long before the birth of her child.

Stream A Mouthful of Air on Amazon Prime Video.

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.