"This Is Us" is a tearjerker. The Golden Globe-winning drama has delved into transracial adoption, the impact of a parent dying, and even how fat girls are taught to shrink themselves by hiding their bodies. The February 14 episode added another layer to the Pearson family's tangled web of emotional trauma.
Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown), the show's most complex character, had a crippling panic attack.
The anxiety attack is spurred by the stress Randall's experiencing: His biological father, William, has terminal cancer and has decided to forgo treatment. He has a rocky relationship with his adoptive mother, Rebecca, who hid William's identity from him throughout his childhood.
Randall is a partner in a successful law firm, and he's struggling to balance his work responsibilities with the emotional needs of his wife, children, dying father, and co-dependent brother.
The previous episode showed anxiety beginning to creep up on Randall. His hand shook as he spoke with his boss, his wife, and his father. In this episode, anxiety overtook him entirely.
"This Is Us" also paid attention to details in a way that other shows highlighting anxiety attacks have not.
For instance, Randall's shaking hands, uncontrollable sweating, and blurred visions are common symptoms of panic attacks.
"The blurring of his vision gave the feeling of detachment or unreality," Murrough told Health. "De-personalization or feeling disconnected from your body is another common symptom of a panic attack."
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the US, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. About 40 million Americans have an anxiety disorder.
Seeing that experience on primetime television can help ease the stigma and shame that often accompanies mental illness. For that reason, "This Is Us" just topped itself — again.