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Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Observer

South Park’s surprisingly accurate portrayal of depression

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Maria Dach | The Observer


Depression is a difficult topic to discuss. There are different levels to it. What may seem severe depression to one person may be just general sadness to another. However, with all of us being in college, I feel we have all had those waves of sadness at one point in our lives. Where we want to be optimistic, outgoing and the life of the party, but we lack the reasoning to do so. Which sucks, I mean, who wants to be sad all the time? It’s not something one can simply control, and when not handled correctly, will slowly consume you. This is what Trey Parker and Matt Stone portray in Season 15, episodes seven to eight of “South Park.”

“South Park”, portraying depression? That sounds like a recipe for disaster and backlash as soon as the episode airs. Surprisingly enough, the creators do a good job of displaying depression in one of the main characters, Stan Marsh. Stan has just celebrated his tenth birthday and realizes how much older he has gotten. Suddenly, everything around him is just not the same. Everything lacks what gave him joy. Music sucks, food tastes awful and it annoys Stan to the point of anger, whicch eventually leads him to complain and lash out at those around him. He gets this negative view of the world and doesn’t know how to change it. It doesn’t get any better when his parents divorce in the series, and he has to deal with the fallout at the age of ten. He shuts himself out. Everything around him is just white noise. You can tell that it has gotten far worse from just seeing the world in a negative way. He just doesn’t see the point of anything. He may get out of bed and go to school, but you can see… he’s just not there mentally anymore.

What makes this more heartbreaking is that no one seems to be meeting Stan halfway. Yes, it is not fair that he is suddenly lashing out at his loved ones and being rude all the time, but those who care for him don’t want to talk about it, instead giving him advice with an air of toxic positivity (or else no one will want to be around him). What is the point of faking happiness instead of talking about how you truly feel? The deepest line in the whole episode is when Stan tells his school counselor: “When all the things that made you laugh, just make you sick. How do you go on when nothing makes you happy?”

While there is a lot more to the story in these two episodes I will skip ahead just a bit. Stan eventually gets manipulated to drink alcohol to feel better, and while they use this bit for some laughs, they also show how he is truly acting in a drunken state. While later on in the end he learns his lesson, the show takes one last dark twist, when Stan comes to terms with moving forward, his parents remarrying and going back to the toxic home that devoured him. He relapses. In the very last scene, his friends come over to take him to the movies, but before he leaves, he opens his drawer, takes out his alcohol bottle and takes a shot. It is never brought up again in the show, but the viewers have known since 2011, that Stan is still depressed, never got help and still drinks to this day.

While mainstream shows try to glorify depression, South Park portrays the most realistic approach in a raw and heartbreaking way.