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8 Times Orange Is The New Black Won at Representing Mental Health Struggles

Posted by Alexandra Van Rijn on

Netflix original series Orange Is The New Black took the world by storm just a few years ago when Season One premiered on laptops across the nation. OITNB is known for it's inside look into a woman's penitentiary, covering issues like race, gender inequality, and even mental health struggles.

Here's 8 times that Orange is the New Black won at representing mental health struggles:



1. When they showed us the injustice that the mentally ill inmates face. 


The Psychiatric Ward or "Psych" as it is referred to, is so much less than a section of the prison that is designed to help inmates receive the care that they need. Psych is dreaded by all of the inmates and is considered to be a place that particularly unruly inmates are placed out of punishment. Inmates are often drugged and locked in small cells when they exhibit psychotic or dangerous behaviour and rarely receive sufficient care for their mental health struggles. 


2. When we lost Tricia to drug addiction 


In episode 10 of Season 1, "Bora, Bora, Bora" the audience said a painful good bye to 19 year old Tricia Miller. Tricia had been receiving illegal drugs from correctional officer, Mendez, and when he stopped smuggling, she began experiencing harsh withdrawals and reaches out to other CO's who put her in Security Housing Unit immediately. After her time spent isolated in the SHU, Mendez has found new drug-smuggling techniques and blackmails Tricia into taking a bag of oxycontin with the intention to sell to other inmates. Mendez discovers Tricia is visibly high on oxycontin and locks her in a supply closet to hide her state from inmates and other COs. In the closet she ingests the whole bag of oxycontin which leads to her overdose. 



3. When Big Boo helps Pennsatucky understand her sexual assault. 

As we discovered Pennsatucky's tragic back story, the audience learned that her entire life she was taught by her mother that sex was simply something men expected of her and throughout her teen years and young adulthood, she used sex to receive things she liked, such as Mountain Dew. Throughout her youth she experienced sexual assault but simply regarded it as her "not being warmed up" rather than rape. In episode 10 of season 3 "A Tittin' and a Hairin" she is sexually assaulted by Coates, a CO whom she has become friends with. When Boo sees her bruises from the attack she questions her and Pennsatucky replies with "No. It's not his fault. I was the one flirting too much. I was smiling and I was really confusing." It is revealed to Boo at this point that Pennsatucky has never been educated on what sexual assault is and walks her through what has happened with her. Boo supports her friend through this difficult time and helps Pennsatucky cope.


4. When Lorna and Suzanne became besties.

Although it is never revealed to the audience exactly which mental health issues Lorna Morello and Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren face, what is apparent is that they both have extreme difficulties with close relationships. Lorna, who is in prison in part for the aggravated stalking of a man whom she had one date with but believed they had a serious relationship; Suzanne has also had a past with an obsessive one-sided relationship with Piper in Season 1. In episode 6 of season 2 "You Also Have A Pizza" on Valentines Day, the duo sit down and have a heart felt conversation about their relationship difficulties. Lorna is going through a particularly difficult time as it has just been revealed to everyone that her engagement was a lie, Suzanne delivers some of the best advice from the entire season to her. "I know something about loving people who aren't smart enough to wanna be loved back. I learned a secret that I can tell you- they don't deserve it." 


5. Soso's suicide attempt.

Bubbly Brook Soso joins the show in Season 2 and has an especially difficult time making friends with the other inmates. She falls into a depression and in episode 13  of season 3 "Trust No Bitch" she attempts suicide by swallowing a bottle of pills that she had taken from the prison's doctors office. Thankfully she is found by Poussey and Taystee who determine that she was in fact still alive, although unconscious. In order to help Soso avoid the feared Psych Ward, the girls bring Soso into the bathroom to do an impromptu prison-style stomach pump by forcing Soso to vomit up the pills. Sosa is later seen in the episode joining the girls at their table in the cafeteria for dinner.


6. When our hearts broke in Officer Healey's flashback. 

In Season 4, Episode 4 "Doctor Psycho" we learn of Officer Healey's relationship with his mother, who suffered from severe mental illness and underwent electroconvulsive therapy. Throughout his childhood, he saw his mother come in and out of hospitals after her ECT "treatments". In the flashback in this episode we see Healey's mother cooking in the middle of the night, making devilled eggs, which Healey is allergic to. From there his mother wanders off into the night and is not seen again. In a later flashback Healey, now an adult, sees a homeless woman whom he believes to be his mother. He treats her to coffee and a hot meal and notices that her hospital band reads a different name than his mother's. The woman tries to run away from Healey as he yells "Who else is going to help you!?"   


7. And when he tried to help Lolly through her episodes of psychosis too

Since the audience was introduced to Lolly Whitehill in Season 2, she has been an open book when it comes to her mental health struggles. Lolly experiences psychosis in which she has auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions of persecution. She often voices her belief to her fellow inmates, that the CIA and FBI, amongst other organizations, are after her and even trying to kill her. Healey's mother experienced similar mental health struggles and in Episode 7, Season 4 "It Sounded Nicer In My Head" he goes out of his way to help her through her tough time. Lolly is found making a "time machine" out of a cardboard box and other pieces of garbage, and Healey gets a first hand look at what Lolly is going through. "I know they're not real." says Lolly regarding the voices she hears "But that don't mean they have nothing to say." Through counselling and taking walks around the prison yard, it is clear that Healey is trying to help Lolly in ways that his mother did not have access to. 


8. When Nicky relapses

The beloved fire-cracker inmate Nicky Nichols is a total OITNB fan-favourite. She has struggled with a heroin addiction for a long time and after she came to Litchfield, Red takes her under her wing and helps her into recovery. Nicky regularly attends AA meetings in Season 2, Episode 9 "40 Oz. of "Furlough" refers to her addiction Heroin is the love of my life. She’s my best girlfriend. She’s my soulmate, coz she makes me feel better than anything.” Although she managed to stay clean for 3 years while in prison, when she is wrongfully sent to maximum security, where she feels particularly alone and the drugs are easier than ever to get, she relapses. Unlike Piper and Alex's relationship with drugs, the audience sees Nicky's less than sexy withdrawals which includes the shakes, physical pain, and vomiting. The show more accurately represents what addiction can be like, rather than glamorizing it. 


Written by our fabulous Exec. Assistant that keeps the office afloat, Addie 

1 comment

  • I love this! Is it okay if I use it for my english class? I will cite this source and give you all the credit!

    Melissa Rodriguez on

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