Riverdale: Betty Cooper and mental illness

Riverdale has quickly become one of the popular shows on The CW. The classic characters including Archie, Betty, and Veronica, are brought into the year 2017. As a part of the millennial generation, characters of Northside High are shown dealing with problems that are common with teens today. One of the biggest examples is struggles with mental illness—a topic that is rarely discussed on TV, especially among teens.

Struggle with mental illness is best shown through the actions of Betty Cooper. Betty is often under pressure, and takes it upon herself to appear as though everything in her life is manageable. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen characters who struggle to be perfect, but Betty’s struggles are addressed in a new and groundbreaking way. Early on in the series, we see that Betty is prescribed Adderall, but the audience is not told why. At the end of Season 1, Jughead and Betty have a heart-to-heart at Pop’s diner. There, they both discuss the issues they have been dealing with, leading to a confession from Betty. Betty admits that she has been struggling to cope with recent events, and has begun to take out her anger on herself. She shows Jughead her wrists, which she has been digging her fingernails into as a distraction. Unaware of other coping mechanisms, digging into her wrists is Betty’s way of easing the pain. She knows that her way of coping is only a brief escape, and she knows that it does more harm to her condition than good.

Betty’s confession is a rare look into the modern day teenager. Furthermore, it is a realistic representation that is rarely seen on television. When mental illness is addressed in the media, it is often shown in the traits of an evil character. Often, mental illness is drawn as a chaotic contribution to a character’s flaws, and is sometimes even used as an excuse for a character’s wrongdoings. But this scene is different: this scene shows real emotion and real struggle that is not exaggerated for the sake of entertainment. Although sad, the scene ends in a heartwarming way, with Betty falling into Jughead’s arms, knowing that he is there to support and help her.

This scene isn’t the first time Betty has exhibited signs of mental illness. First off, Betty has lots of issues to deal with at home. When the series began, Betty has not seen her sister in months. Missing her, Betty sets out to find her sister, Polly, only to find out that her mother has sent her away to a convent. It’s just the latest in hurtful decisions made by Betty’s mother, who becomes more damaging and controlling as the season progresses. Soon, Betty’s parents’ separate and her sister moves in with the Blossom family, making Betty feel even more alone.

Betty tries to appear as though everything is fine. She continues to write for her school newspaper and devotes her time to investigative reporting. On the outside, Betty is keeping up the impression that she is handling everything well. But deep down, she knows her life is not as perfect and manageable as she is letting on. So much so, that she despises being called, “the perfect girl next door” – a description that enrages her. Betty feels that “the perfect girl next door” description does not describe her, and becomes angry whenever she hears it.
Perhaps the most memorable scene where Betty’s mental health is questioned appears in Episode 3. It’s the scene that fans refer to as “Dark Betty.” Almost in disguise, Betty takes on a new personality. When football player, Chuck, spreads a false rumor about Veronica, the girls set out for revenge. Even worse, the girls realize that the football team has been spreading similar rumors about many girls at Northside High, including Betty’s sister. The girls create a scheme, but unbeknownst to Veronica, Betty takes it a bit too far. A fit of anger comes over Betty, and she begins to submerge Chad in water, imagining he is the boy who hurt her sister. Betty takes out her anger on Chuck, almost drowning him, and becomes a version of herself that shocks Veronica. Many fans think Betty is showing possible signs of Multiple Personality Disorder in this scene. She channels all of her anger into this ‘character’ she has become, and almost does not even realize what she is doing. After releasing Chuck, only then does Betty realize the height of her issues, and hides her “Dark Betty” persona from the rest of the world.

Riverdale shows audiences that it is time to be honest about mental illness. Mental illness is real, and it is more common than people realize. Furthermore, mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and the stigma needs to stop as soon as possible. Mental health should be a priority to everyone. If you feel that you are showing signs of mental illness, there is no shame in reaching out for help. With Riverdale’s realistic portrayal, many people can benefit and change the negativity associated with mental illness.