December 15, 2010

Glee and Discrimination

The following post is a letter I wrote to the creator, writer, and director of Glee. Though it is one of my favorite shows I was recently very disappointed in the episode, "The Substitute" because of its discriminator and stigmatizing language and actions. Please check out the episode here  ( or on itunes and write to Ryan Murphy and Fox about your feelings.

This email is addressed to Ryan Murphy and anyone involved in the Glee episode "The Substitute"

Hello Mr. Murphy and staff,

My name is Linea Johnson and I am a mental health advocate. I am 25, and though not an adolescent anymore, work primarily with adolescents struggling with mental health conditions. I am also a consumer who lives with bipolar disorder.

I watch Glee every week and have always considered it a show full of great lessons through it's discussion of important and often controversial topics. I felt that you handled teenage pregnancy, bullying, and the struggles of being openly gay in high school extremely well. I feel there was so much to learn for students struggling with similar issues as well as so much to teach to those who enjoy your show but may not understand these lessons. On the whole I think Glee is a wonderful, strong and intelligent show.

My view changed a little on November 16th when I watched the episode, "The Substitute". Watching Gwyneth Paltrow, a beautiful and talented actress and one who many young girls admire, speaking ignorantly about bipolar disorder and mental illness was very disturbing. To use bipolar disorder as a joke accompanied by the violent image of tossing a baby is complete discrimination and ignorance. The level of stigma that this produces is extremely harmful for all those struggling with this very difficult illness and for those who know and love them.

Did you know that 1 in 4 families will experience a mental illness? 1 in 5 young adults will experience a mental health condition whether it is depression and/or anxiety or something more extreme like bipolar disorder. Did you know that suicide is the third leading cause of death for high-schoolers and young adults? I have no doubt that someone in your cast or crew has experienced a mental health condition, likely numerous individuals.

Shows like this are extremely harmful and dangerous to your public. While you are intelligently inclusive of most youth, this episode made it painfully clear that you are not supportive of a very large majority of the students. It is evident that you didn't consider the emotional states that young mothers, over-weight high schoolers, openly gay students, and many more experience in high school. Hasn't Curt experienced depression and fear throughout his bullying? Didn't Quinn have emotional distress during her pregnancy? Perhaps you should try to touch on this very serious issue and continue to teach powerful lessons.

I am very disappointed in Glee. Please make a change and produce episodes that deal with mental illness accurately and compassionately and include themes of recovery. Your treatment of bipolar disorder has lessened the impact of your other powerful lessons and made me question my interest in the show.

Thank you,
Linea Johnson

You can contact Fox here:

And Ryan Murphy here:
Ryan Murphy (Glee creator, director, writer):
Ryan Murphy Productions
5555 Melrose Ave
Chevalier Bldg.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Phone: 323-956-5000
Fax: 323-862-2121


Unknown said...

Good for you! I will be sending a similar letter.

On the flip side, did you catch the FX show Terriers? It lasted just one season, and ended two weeks ago. But it had a wonderful character with schizophrenia. A REAL character, with depth and - get this - she wasn't a violent killer or rapist. I wrote a letter to FX about how great that was. We need to both praise and point out when they make mistakes. Bravo!

SarahC said...

I feel your pain. I have OCD. I started sobbing when I saw Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics being featured in a fashion magazine. Then this week I saw greeting cards called Obsessive Compulsive Designs. I wrote to the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation. So far, they haven't done anything. It is making light of something that is painful and real. Would you called you company Schizophrenic Cosmetics? Attention Deficit Designs? I don't think so. Mental health is very much stigmatized in movies and television. It's not okay.

Becca said...


I too completely disagree with the way the show addressed mental illness as well. In fact, that night, I turned it off. I love the show, but not at the expense of someone else.

You're doing great things for the mental health community! Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Your letter was great! I don't watch Glee but I am grateful that you have spoken up.

Megan said...

Great letter! Thank you for speaking up!

Chantelle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chantelle said...

I also follow your mom's blog...I think it's absolutely fantastic that you both do what you do!
I am also one who shakes her head at what Glee and other shows/celebrities have done to handle mental illness. Your letter was powerful and should make them think twice about their next episodes to come. More people should take "the bull by the horns" and advocate like this. My husband and I are sickened at what we see on television/media...I also discuss this in my blog @

Hope to read more from you soon!

Jen said...

The episode completely glazed over the severity of the issue. Not only did they fail to bring to light that depression is a quantifiable realty for a huge sect of adolescents, they diminish bipolar disorder in their scripting. As noted in recent studies

people suffering a mix of Bipolar and manic cycles tend to be young when their depression was diagnosed.

Unknown said...

It was great that you took the stand. I am proud of what you have done. Maybe Glee producers should look up to London counseling as a source of great reference. This is a site made by professionals and is intended to promulgate knowledge as well as counseling opportunities. I hope they would look up to this site. :)