One Day at a Time's 'Anxiety' episode is so accurate about mental health in immigrant families

12 February 2019, 19:10

Nicky Idika

By Nicky Idika

One Day at a Time's "Anxiety" episode gets so much right about the multi-generational religious immigrant family experience.

Now in its third season, Netflix's One Day At A Time remains one of the platform’s most watchable and poignant family friendly programmes. The show’s ability to touch on social issues and familial dynamics has been one of its strengths, especially in the show’s latter seasons.

In season 2 of One Day At A Time, viewers learn of Penelope’s struggles with depression and anxiety, something which season 3 explores further in its “Anxiety” episode. In the episode, we see more of how Penelope manages her anxiety with group therapy and meditation, and how Lydia views her daughter's coping strategies and mental health journey.

Though steeped in humour and Rita Moreno's hilarious portrayal, Lydia’s outlook on her daughter’s mental health struggles certainly hits close to home for me, especially as the daughter of religious immigrant parents.

One Day at a Time
Penelope and Lydia in One Day at a Time. Picture: Ali Goldstein/Netflix

In my family, there isn’t any problem that can’t be fixed with prayer. Big test coming up? Prayer. Car won’t start? Prayer. About to open your December heating bill? Prayer. In One Day at a Time’s “Anxiety” episode, Penelope explains that her own mother’s way of coping with anxiety is mostly prayer-based.

Lydia dismisses meditation and disparages Penelope’s antidepressants as “the great family shame”. Lydia’s mindset isn’t born out of malice, though, but out of the generational and cultural differences in attitudes about mental health.

Lydia one day at a time
Rita Moreno as Lydia in One Day at a Time. Picture: Netflix/Screenshot

Like Lydia, my mother is also extremely not chill. She, too, fixates on random health epidemics she hears about on the news (or from her friends on WhatsApp) and she'd almost certainly wake me up to tell me I was breathing "too relaxed".

When I talk to my mother about mental health in our family, she often brings up my grandmother's postpartum depression and how she got better “with a lot of prayer.” This was 60 years ago in a rural village in Nigeria and, though my mother still views prayer as the ultimate cure-all, we both know that my grandmother would have probably seen a mental health professional and perhaps gotten counselling for her depression if she were experiencing it today.

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How we view and talk about mental mental health is changing every day, even within our immigrant families. One Day at a Time's depiction of Lydia as a religious matriarch whose views are firmly rooted in her own upbringing and journey to America feels authentic in a show determined to portray all the textures of this modern family.

In the final scene of the "Anxiety" episode, Lydia, Penelope, and Elena are all seen meditating on the couch. This is despite Lydia's stated aversion to meditation. While Penelope and Elena try to find their inner calm with an "Om" mantra, Lydia's "Om" turns into a prayer, comedically illustrating the ways in which prayer and meditation might ultimately be similar forms of self-care.

One Day at a Time’s portrayal of a multi-generational Cuban-American family under one roof illustrates how mental health, religion, and the immigrant experience are inextricably tied together in many families.

One Day At A Time
Penelope, Elena, and Lydia in Netflix's One Day at a Time. Picture: Netflix/Screenshot