Where are all my Trekky fans at? Over the last year my husband and I watched Star Trek spinoffs The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine. Obviously, we’ve liked it, or we would’ve stopped before our trek through DS9. We’re about halfway through DS9 and we came across episode 19 of season four titled Hard Time.
Our post-episode discussion had us talking about it and during that it occurred to me that these shows have done a really good job in working to increase mental health awareness and de-stigmatizing getting treatment and help when it’s needed. Here’s my list of times that a Star Trek series nailed mental health.
- Deep Space Nine | Season 4, Episode 19 “Hard Time”
The episode stars everyone’s favorite Chief Petty Officer, Miles O’Brien, who is arrested and spends time in a prison for espionage. It details his time in prison and his release. To the rest of the world, O’Brien is held for a number of hours for punishment for his crime, but to O’Brien he was imprisoned for 20 years. Thanks to the scientific advances of the planet administering the punishment they have no brick and mortar prison or punishment; they simply hook people up and install memories of imprisonment, and then release people.
Miles wakes up with 20 years of memories of starvation, beatings, torture of all kinds, and even sadly, killing his cellmate (who doesn’t really exist and is just an implanted memory) over some food during a time the prison staff was withholding food. He returns home with extreme emotional trauma, hypervigilance, and portrays complex trauma in a realistic way, including his initial resistance to treatment and withdrawal from friends and family.
Ultimately, Miles’ friends support him through his experience, and he happily accepts both medication and counseling in order to heal. Good job, Deep Space Nine, and actor Colm Meaney.
- Star Trek Next Generation | Season 7, Episode 7 “Dark Page”
This episode stars the flamboyant mother of ship’s counselor Deanna Troi, Lwaxana Troi. Because of the Troi family Betazed heritage, they enjoy the ability to communicate telepathically. This brings Lwaxana to her daughter’s ship, the Enterprise, in order to help a new Federation member planet whose population communicates only telepathically learn to speak verbally.
During that process Mrs. Troi overexerts herself and becomes very stressed, and very emotionally attached to a young girl she’s teaching to speak verbally. With her internal defenses down, memories of the tragic loss of Mrs. Troi’s eldest daughter (Deanna Troi’s older sister) come flooding back. This loss and even her first daughter’s existence are things Mrs. Troi held deep in her mind away from everyone, including her daughter, Deanna.
Eventually, Mrs. Troi suffers a total collapse and both the ship’s counselor (her daughter) and another telepath help Mrs. Troi process that old hurt and her grief, which enables her to heal and move forward. It also helps Deanna better understand her mother and some of her mother’s past behavior. An entire family is healed!
- Star Trek Next Generation | Season 6, Episodes 10 & 11 “Chain of Command”
In this episode, Federation enemy species, the Cardassians bring the Federation to the brink of war. Star Fleet Command sends Enterprise Captain Jean Luc Picard on an undercover mission where he is ultimately captured and tortured for days. Picard valiantly clings to hope that he will be rescued, and that his crew is still alive and working to get him back.
The Cardassians release Picard after their political demands are met, and Picard returns to the Enterprise in poor health, and unsure of his own reality thanks to the psychological torture he endured. After taking command of the ship he leaves the bridge, enters his ready room, and sends for Counselor Troi. He begins talking with her about his experience immediately. What’s best – the whole bridge crew sees him reach out to Troi and take a break from his bridge duties when he needs it.
- Star Trek Next Generation | Season 3, Episode 5 “The Bonding”
Security Chief Worf takes an away team to investigate an uninhabited planet, only to walk into a minefield. One of the scientists on the away mission is killed during the exploration. She leaves behind a young son, whose father was killed in a conflict when he was a baby. The ship’s counselor works hard to help him adjust, as do several other crew members.
The alien species responsible for the mines that would kill the young boy’s mother witness all that is happening and in their guilt, they take the form of his mother and create an illusionary world for him – all in an effort to ease the boy’s pain. The crew, including the captain, learn what is going on, and work hard to help the boy, Jeremy, process his pain, and choose reality, over the illusion they’ve offered.
Worf invites the boy into a healing Klingon ritual that makes him a member of Worf’s family.
- Voyager | Season 5, Episode 3 “Extreme Risk”
In this episode, main engineer B’Elanna Torres loses interest in her and boyfriend Tom Paris’ project in developing the revolutionary shuttle craft, Delta Flyer. She becomes disconnected and withdrawn. She starts showing up late, and missing things. That just isn’t B’Elanna. Soon her friends and crewmates are concerned about her, and everyone is trying to figure out what is going on.
First Officer, Chakotay soon realizes that B’Elanna is spending time in the holodeck running programs with the safety settings off. She seems to have lost interest in protecting her health and to be taking joy in hurting herself. Finally, Chakotay finds B’Elanna running a simulation of the day her friends and fellow resistance fighters in the Maquis die – an event her tour through the Delta Quadrant caused her to miss.
B’Elanna, it seems, is dealing with both survivor’s guilt and depression in trying to cope with the loss of her Maquis friends. Chakotay is able to help B’Elanna discuss her feelings, the loss of her friends, and the issues at hands. A bit of peer counseling and support from friends help her heal.
There are a lot of episodes I likely missed. And how many TV shows outside of Bob Newhart ever made counseling and therapy a main idea (and yet in a respectful, helpful, realistic way)? Star Trek Next Generation brought on the idea of counseling as a healthy part of operating on a daily basis. Counseling was so important that space stations like Deep Space Nine and even the flagship of the Federation staffed counselors to support and assist people on board.
Star Trek for the win again!
Any episodes I missed? Or other TV shows you feel have demonstrated the helpfulness of counseling and helped to norm mental health treatment? Let me know in the comments!