Loretta Devine Embraces the Topic of Motherhood and Depression on NBC's "The Carmichael Show"

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The Huffington Post is no stranger to discussing the deepest, most honest topics in motherhood. Bouts of depression, waves of anxiety, or just feeling like you can’t catch a break are as real to many HuffPo readers as the wind on their faces on a spring day.

Even moms who aren’t quite sure what they feel need to know they’re not alone; that their struggle is valid. They need to know that they’re not the only mom wrestling with things like discouragement, disappointment, self-doubt, anger, confusion, fear, or loneliness.

There is nothing quite as powerful as a mother pulling back the curtain on her troubles and bringing them to light in her own words. I've done this when my own life was silently spiraling toward depression. It was terrifying to open up, but the after effect was seeing women open up to one another on social media, chasing away the lonely darkness for a day, promising to get coffee together, to watch each other’s kids so they can have a break, finding their own voices, and being brave.

What if a different medium took a crack at this topic from a completely different approach? What if they used their platform to spark new discussions in a totally different light?

What if they told jokes?

The Carmichael Show did just that. The critically acclaimed show is no stranger to tackling deep subjects like mental illness, marital strife, and discrimination, opening them up for discussion in a fresh way. It follows a young man named Jerrod Carmichael, his girlfriend who is training to be a therapist, and his loud and lovable family that brings every opinion to the table.

When Jerrod’s girlfriend Maxine finds his mother Cynthia crying alone in the kitchen, she begins to question Cynthia about what’s wrong. Cynthia and the majority of her family brush it off as “the blues,” but the episode digs deeper and deeper into what’s at the heart of her troubles.

I believe Jerrod Carmichael, who is also the creator of the show, and his team of writers have their fingers on the pulse of this modern society filled with brave-faced, sleep-deprived mothers carrying the heavy load known as symptoms of depression.

I say “symptoms of depression” because I’m not a medical professional trying to make a case for whether or not Cynthia’s character clinically has “depression.” It’s such a broad scale, but man, it all sucks, doesn’t it?

Instead, the heart of this episode of The Carmichael Show, and what I wish to focus on in this article, isn’t figuring out whether Cynthia’s ailment is valid or not. It’s why no one is talking about it.

So the real question is:

Can a sitcom stuffed with punch lines, improv, and a live studio audience really pull this off? I mean, can they really get a subject like depression right?

To answer that, I spoke in a phone interview with the dynamic, talented, Emmy-winning Loretta Devine known for her roles in Grey’s Anatomy, Boston Public, and DreamGirls, and who portrays Cynthia Carmichael in The Carmichael Show. Ms. Devine was gracious enough to share her thoughts on the experience and what the episode can offer mothers, as well as their families.

My Interview With Loretta Devine:

Compared with other sitcoms, how deeply does this episode of The Carmichael Show get on the topic of depression?

LD: It’s a comedy, so the style that Jerrod uses shows many different sides to a particular issue. Each family member feels differently about the topic at hand and the viewer gains a greater understanding of it because of that.

My character has been dealing with depression in her own way. I think some people don’t even know that they are depressed. Normally all TV talks about is just killing women, which is what’s so great about this show and how it can explore the depths of the topic in a way that helps its female characters rise above their personal struggles.

Many mothers sweep their deepest feelings under the rug which prevents their family members from understanding the true depth of their struggle. Does this episode explore that?

LD: This episode is as truthful as possible. It opens the topic of depression up for conversation for families to explore in their own home. All of a sudden it becomes something on the table and people can face it together. Being open about your struggles becomes a good thing. Talking together about it becomes a good thing. Therapy becomes a good thing.

Cynthia, like many mothers, considers herself the glue that holds her family together, feeling compelled to put on a smile even when there is trouble in the family. What would you like moms to know about Maxine and Jerrod’s challenge for her to take care of herself, even if it makes her feel weak or exposed?

LD: Maxine [Jerrod Carmichael’s girlfriend] challenges the family each episode toward a whole different way of looking at problems and dealing with them in new ways. In this upcoming episode, Maxine keeps the focus on Cynthia’s feelings and their importance. It’s true in the world today. People often don’t even realize how important feelings are.

In a way, I think women are the center of their household, that they’re the glue. So, they feel like if they’re falling apart then the whole household will.

Mothers need someone to talk to, too. If I have a problem, I call my sister in Houston. I know she loves me and she’s going to say things that help me. In truth, you may need someone outside the family. The point is to talk to someone.

Some of this episode’s characters view depression as something to damage one's reputation; therefore, they believe it should stay "in house" or a secret. Why do you think Jerrod and the other writers focused on that so strongly?

LD: That’s what happens in most families. You don’t want someone to know that’s happening.

A lot of times people keep things hidden because they feel guilty. You really have to trust the people you’re around before you mention it. Oftentimes, once you do open up, that person confesses that they’re going through something just like it or just as challenging.

Everyone connects the brain with depression so they think, “If I can’t get my brain right then I can’t fix my depression.” This is a competitive country. You continually see things that you want or that you think you should have. You’re told happiness lies in being thin, buying nice clothes, nice shoes, nice cars, being under 20, things that might be impossible. Everybody is trying to be perfect and after a while depression happens because they can’t find answers to these things.

Your Emmy-winning performance of Adele on Grey’s Anatomy dealt with the difficulties of mental illness in such a raw and emotional way. How does it feel to portray Cynthia, another mother struggling with something deep and emotional, but instead of a drama, it’s a comedy? How did the mixture of truth and humor make that different for you?

LD: They’re two totally different mediums with different set ups. One script is line by line and the other is more off the cuff. You have to have a very strong identity with your character. I studied very hard to know all about Alzheimer's [during Grey’s Anatomy] and now with my own mother struggling with an early onset of dementia, it is very real to me.

I personally try to stay as far away from depression as I can. It’s hard in show business because of so much rejection, but The Carmichael Show is so fun to do with the improvisation and laughter and music. It’s just a great cast and great atmosphere.

Many moms reading this are from all walks of life, loving their kids, working hard, most likely sleep-deprived, probably haven’t eaten a warm meal by themselves in ages, who feel like no one else around them struggles with what they do. If that mom watches Cynthia battle "The Blues" in The Carmichael Show, then what is the biggest takeaway you want her to have?

LD: I think it shows that everybody in the show loves Cynthia, and everything that’s happened to her is because of love. She finds out she has to have some “me” time. She doesn’t know it at the beginning, but she finds out that going to a therapist is definitely “me” time, and that it’s something you can actually begin to enjoy. I think if she would have started this early, hiring a babysitter, taking herself shopping, investing time in herself, then it would have been easier on her. All those little things are very important.

To see Loretta Devine’s performance as the strong and funny Cynthia Carmichael, tune into NBC’s The Carmichael Show on Sunday nights at 9/8c.

(Video via Fox)

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