Why ‘This Is Us’ Star Sterling K. Brown Shared a Powerful Message About Mental Health

This Is Us focuses on many different levels of representation. From adoption to addiction, body image to sexuality, there’s little the show hasn’t explored. The characters are multi-layered, enduring some of the same struggles as any real-life being. Here’s why This Is Us star, Sterling K. Brown, is speaking out mental health.

Randall Pearson on ‘This Is Us’ has anxiety

Sterling K. Brown
Sterling K. Brown onstage during the “Waves” Atlanta red carpet premiere | Paras Griffin/Getty Images

The series premiere of This Is Us opened with Randall’s search for his biological father (among other threads). From early childhood, Randall struggles with fitting in and feeling as though he belonged in the Pearson family.

Randall’s void manifests throughout the seasons by his innate need to please. He wants to excel at everything he’s a part of, and he wants everyone to like and accept him as he is.

Viewers saw early glimpses of Randall’s anxiety when he worked himself to the point of a breakdown, and when his biological father’s terminal illness affected him more deeply than he felt ready to confront.

His teen years — particularly after his father, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) passed — reveal more layers to Randall’s anxiety, such as the way he marks everything that needs fixed in Rebecca’s new house.

He becomes so entrenched in helping others, it clouds his judgment towards everything else and the anxiety festers until it sends Randall spiraling into another panic attack.

Randall’s denial of therapy opened the dialogue on men’s mental health

A recent episode in season 4 revealed Randall’s daughter, Tess (Eris Baker) also has anxiety and stress-induced panic attacks. Randall feels the deep weight of guilt but when his wife, Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson), offers therapy, Randall declines.

“I don’t need therapy,” Randall said. “I’m good. The best I’ve been in years.”

Beth persisted. “You know you don’t have to wait for it all to come crashing down to get help,” she says. “We have resources now and people who are trained to deal with this kind of stuff.”

Randall still wouldn’t accept the offer, sparking more conversations about mental health, particularly in men. Research shows that men are less likely to get the help they need for mental health treatment than women, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

The data points to similar themes some have articulated to Randall on This Is Us, suggesting he’s not seen as “strong” to someone like Beth’s mom, Carol. This is the type of thing that prevents men from seeking treatment, fear of shame or judgment.

As for how much Brown relates to Randall’s struggle, he told Entertainment Tonight, “Every character I play is me.”

Brown’s season 1 performance, when he had an emotional breakdown at work, showed just how true that is. Brown said it was “one of the most exhausting scenes I’ve ever shot.”

He continued: “We shot it over and over and over again until my eyeballs were bone dry.” He concluded that he told the director, Ken Olin, he didn’t think he could do it anymore.

Here we are three seasons later and Randall’s mental health is still being explored in new ways, shining a light on conversations that should be had without condemnation.

Here’s why Sterling K. Brown is speaking out about mental health

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You are stronger than you know. #ThisIsUs

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Tuesday’s episode prompted Brown to step in. He wanted to open the dialogue outside of the show, encouraging others to share their stories so they’d feel less alone.

“Tess had a panic attack. It runs in the family as we all know and have seen with Randall,” he tweeted. “Let’s open up a dialogue about mental health. How do you navigate the sometimes overwhelming stressors/anxieties in your life?”

Fans weighed in, telling stories of their own. Some acknowledging the power of real talk.

“How Randall approves seeking professional help for his daughter w/o blinking but rejects it entirely for himself,” one fan Tweeted. “How many of us have been in those shoes? Recognizing how helpful professionals could be for our loved ones without accepting it for ourselves? Help is out there.”

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Hole in one? No pressure or anything. ⛳ #ThisIsUs

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Another fan Tweeted: “So true. I took care of my mom for 9 years. She passed a year ago this month. I did everything for her except breathe for her and now everything is coming down on me. I’m no longer ashamed to say I have anxiety and glad I have supportive people around me. Thank U.”

The comments go on quite a ways. In the same ET interview, Brown explained why Randall’s mental health journey is an important one.

“I felt a responsibility because of people in my family who
have anxiety or different mental disorders, I’ve been witness to it, and it’s
important to put it out there in a way that releases the stigma of it,” he said.

“And the only way to do it is to go all the way through. The response from people who suffer from different social anxiety disorders was they felt represented and that made me feel it was all worth it.”