Planes, Trains & Bipolar Disorder: The Latest ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Death is a Set Back for Mental Health Representation

Planes, Trains & Bipolar Disorder: The Latest ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Death is a Set Back for Mental Health Representation

WARNINGThis article contains spoilers for Grey’s Anatomy Season 17

On Thursday night, Grey’s Anatomy made its anticipated return. In true Grey’s fashion, we were bawling by the end of the episode when a beloved series regular made their departure in the tragic conclusion to a devastating storyline…

In an upsetting twist of events, we had to say goodbye to none other than Dr. Andrew DeLuca (Giacomo Gianniotti). DeLuca met his untimely demise following his investigation into the sex trafficking case that began last season. Suffering from a fatal stab wound, DeLuca was left in critical condition as his colleagues frantically worked to save him.

His death concludes the whirlwind of tragedy that had plagued the Italian surgeon for several seasons. The show had typically steered clear of mental health in a major plot line until DeLuca was suspected to have bipolar disorder. Fans will recall that DeLuca’s descent into mania began almost three seasons ago after he fell into a depressive state over a number of episodes.

Initially, his symptoms were subtle. They were never the focus of the episode, but there was enough implemented to signify that something may be wrong. Concern for the fan-favourite’s mental well-being arose in season 16 when DeLuca began experiencing manic episodes. He made life-altering decisions without considering the consequences – putting his own life at risk and he eventually endured a public breakdown.

This marked the first time a mental health narrative had been explored in depth within a main character – and it had been tackled with sensitivity and accuracy. DeLuca’s illness was never vilified. Instead of being dismissed, he was met with endless support. There was never a moment where he was shunned, no matter how hard he tried to push people away. Even when DeLuca’s world completely shattered, all anyone wanted was for him to seek help.

The entirety of the storyline was treated compassionately. It provided an authentic perspective on mental illness, and the representation was both a relief and enlightening. DeLuca overcame the harmful tropes of mental health, proving that there can be light at the end of the tunnel for those struggling. He showed that one can still be successful; they can still hold on to their loved ones and be completely vulnerable whilst living with their condition.

DeLuca was one of the few positive representations of mental health in television. He was a wholly dimensional character with a thoroughly developed storyline that breached the negative stigma that often comes with mental illness. His arc was not constructed on a whim; instead it was built upon over a number of seasons before reaching its peak, which to me would imply that the writers understood the responsibility of illustrating this narrative.

It was rejuvenating to see that DeLuca’s journey had a natural flow rather than feeling like a box was being ticked. He was not treated indifferently or perceived as ‘crazy’, and he most definitely was not a burden – which was frequently emphasised by his peers. He was a symbol of hopeful optimism for the people going through similar experiences.

Conversely, this is Grey’s Anatomy and apparently no one can have even a moment of bliss. Six episodes after DeLuca was shown to have gained control of his illness, he was heading to the morgue because of complications brought on by a stab wound. Not only was this death abrupt, it was totally unnecessary – especially after the hardships DeLuca had just recovered from. Sure, his final actions were nothing short of heroic and he found peace within himself – but I haven’t.

The show has featured numerous disasters for the leading characters such as; a train derailment, a literal bomb and the infamous plane crash that changed Grey’s Anatomy as we know it. Through each of these, the majority of characters survived and yet, Andrew DeLuca somehow succumbed to a knife lesion. His heartbreaking departure gives little ambition to future depictions of mental health. It almost indicates that DeLuca was destined for an unhappy ending despite his best efforts.

There are not many forms of entertainment that have tackled mental health as delicately as Grey’s Anatomy did with DeLuca. The show had treaded the waters before his introduction but with supporting characters with minor roles and momentarily, Owen’s (Kevin McKidd) struggle with PTSD. Either way, little was contributed to a progressive storyline and the show was moving on to the next traumatic event.

With DeLuca, it seemed that the narrative had changed and we would be looking at a success story – granted, we received a tiny glimpse of this, but was a handful of episodes enough? His death appeared to be more for shock value. Yes, it was an act of bravery on his part, however, the trafficking storyline could have concluded much the same way only without the fatal attack.

It is a shame that Grey’s Anatomy chose to follow this path as opposed to continuing to represent a positive mental health arc. In what once was an aspirational symbol of light, is now gloomy and dark, discrediting all that DeLuca had worked towards. That being said, Giacomo Gianniotti’s portrayal of DeLuca offers a basis of support and encouragement that I can only hope is emulated in future approaches to mental illness.

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