Before I knew of Lili Reinhart, I knew of Betty Cooper from Riverdale. A sweet, (seemingly) innocent girl-next-door, hair pulled tight into a ponytail, and palms carrying four moon-shaped scars. After watching the first season in a matter of days, I recognized some similarities between myself and Betty, and I greeted those commonalities with a sigh of relief.
A character in a TV show who has signs of a mental illness, but her character is not overpowered by any mental instability she may have. Then, I found out that Lili Reinhart, the actress playing Betty Cooper, struggled with anxiety for the majority of her working life.
In an interview with W Magazine, Reinhart explains her mental health journey and where she felt that everything started going wrong. She explains that her anxiety became most prevalent when she began looking for jobs, and she would spend up to “five months holed up in this bedroom in this house just feeling anxious”. Reinhart’s struggles with anxiety increased as she continued searching for jobs, and the stress of developing a career became a huge trigger.
As her anxiety progressed, she began searching for solutions to her problem. She began by telling her mom that she “wasn’t okay”. After that, she returned home and “began seeing a therapist she had previously visited before moving out West”. She went through the process of therapy and self-work in order to cope with the stress of her career. In the article, Reinhart talks more about her experiences with therapy and how auditions and the pressures of making money were major triggers for her anxiety. A large part of her mental turmoil came from her uncertainty with the various odd jobs she held before her acting career. Her anxiety reached its peak when she was physically incapable of working and returned home to work on herself with the help of therapy. During this period, Riverdale entered her life, and she found herself playing Betty Cooper alongside a star-studded cast.
By telling her story, Reinhart brings attention to a serious issue regarding mental health: the self-destructive nature of it. It is very common for problems like anxiety to be self-propagated. In Reinhart’s case, her anxiety was fueled by her career goals. These goals were completely in her control, yet they were a major contributor to her anxiety. In this way, her mental health worsened despite the control she should hypothetically feel. However, as many of us know, mental health stops remaining in our control after a while. At a certain point, the variables we once controlled now control us. Reinhart encompasses this trend, and we are now able to better understand that trend because of her story.
Now that I know this side of Lili Reinhart, it makes me hopeful for the corresponding side in her character, Betty Cooper.
Perhaps this will introduce a new theme into television, one where a main character has a mental illness and actively seeks out help without letting the mental illness overwhelm her identity. This could benefit a potential audience who may identify with this character, helping them see beneficial ways in dealing with mental illness, but it could also just help with the general stigma surrounding mental illness and what it entails.
In many ways, Riverdale can be a dramatization of a stereotypically normal life, but Betty Cooper links the average human being to the wild world of Riverdale through the common variable of mental health.