How ‘The End of the F***ing World’ cautions against the mental health medicalization of fiction

Alyssa looking a little distressed via the season 2 trailer. Netflix spells it with those *** so whatever, I will too. I also wish I had a brighter image, but it’s a dark show…

Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World got a sequel season! Who could have guessed after the ambiguous dead-end from the original series? And I liked the original for having the audacity to resist profit-seeking seasonitis and end…

But with that initial gripe out of the way, I liked the second season. Though it lost the unrelenting forward energy of the teenage-runaway road-trip from the first season, it still works well as a thoughtful examination of love and other adolescent delusions, this time from a more mature perspective now that James and Alyssa, the lead couple, have aged out of their aborted Romeo-and-Juliet fantasy. If nothing else, I enjoyed it for another chance to hear Alyssa say “fuck” and “shit” in her adorable Yorkshire accent (and beyond Alyssa, the whole cast imbues just one impassive word — “okay” — with so many meaningful, implicative tones that they could craft an entire language).

No, I don’t have any serious problems with the second season or even much to say.

Rather, I’ve been more interested in the way people have discussed the series after the fact. With few exceptions, most of the reviews I have read describe the characters in psychiatric terms: depression, PTSD, autism, social anxiety, borderline and antisocial personality disorders. To be fair, those professional writers do cover other varied themes like The End of the F***ing World’s unique trope-busting crush on teenage romance stories. But good luck finding a fan discussion on social media covering any thematic topic other than mental health while armchair psychiatrists on Quora and Reddit argue over where James falls on the autism or antisocial spectrums.

The experience reading through so many other’s thoughts on The End of the F***ing World left me wondering: when did fiction become so heavily medicalized? Why has it become a default impulse to diagnose characters, not with basic emotions like sadness or loneliness or more lofty literary problems like ennui or alienation, but with specific psychiatric pathologies like depression and PTSD?

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