Why We Grieve Our Favourite TV Shows: Psychologists on 'Post-Series Depression'

Ever found yourself feeling 'lost' or 'empty' after a good show ends? There are ways to tackle this feeling.

5 min read
Hindi Female

"After I finished reading all the Harry Potter books, I was heartbroken. I waited for the movies to come out, but then those got over too. And I was left feeling: what now?" says Anoushka Rajesh, a 26-year-old journalist.

Anoushka – like many of us who love binge-watching TV shows, going on movie marathons, and reading thriller novels – says she is often left with a "sense of loss, imbalance, a sort of void" when something she enjoyed watching or reading comes to an end.

"Sometimes, it affects me so much that I avoid watching the ending altogether – even if it's a show I had been following for years, like Naruto," she says.

This feeling of 'loss' and 'sadness' is more common than you think; psychologists refer to it as 'post-series depression' or PSD.

When HBO show Succession aired its finale in India on Monday, 30 May, social media was flooded with posts about how the show would be missed dearly. With the Apple TV show Ted Lasso also coming to an end on Wednesday, 31 May, conversations about PSD are important now more than ever.

FIT spoke to experts about this state of mental health and ways to tackle it, and here's what we found out.


What Exactly Is PSD?

Nishtha Budhiraja, a child psychologist, describes post-series depression as a feeling of "profound sense of grief, loss, or emptiness," which is usually experienced after the end of a TV show, movie, or book.

"PSD can also involve feelings of being confused. It is an emotionally dysregulated sort of experience," she tells FIT.

Budhiraja explains that most of us tend to identify with characters in TV shows, books, and movies, and may even relate to them at a "very deep level." Often, we also create fantasies around a show or a character and grow emotionally attached to them.

"These feelings tend to get projected on the character or the storyline. And that is why it gets difficult once it ends. There is this sense of loss – that you will no longer be able to experience this again. It's grief, but it's a different kind of grief – because you're grieving someone fictional. So, it can get a bit confusing as well," she adds.

PSD isn't really a new phenomenon, though it's become more common with the rise of OTT and binge-watching culture, says Budhiraja.

"Even when our parents and grandparents were watching those old Ekta Kapoor shows, they felt really strongly about them when they ended. And they went on for years!" she says.

Now, multiple people go through a shared experience of grief because of the accessibility and relatability of OTT content, she adds.

She, however, explains that PSD isn't just limited to books or TV. "During the lockdown, when they had banned the game PUBG, the adolescent population had become so anxious, so emotionally unregulated. Why? Because they didn't have the one thing they really looked forward to. This is PSD as well."


No Watching or Rewatching?

Twenty-six-year-old Archana Shaji, a PhD scholar, tells FIT she has the habit of keeping a tab on the number of episodes of any show before watching it.

"I always check the number of episodes of a show before watching it, just to prepare myself. And the despair starts around the last three episodes. By the time the series is over, I feel very low, even if the theme of the series is positive and it ended on a good note," she says.

Archana says she's felt this way with many shows, but the despair is worse when she's seen the characters grow on screen, like in Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Derry Girls.

"If it's a show that I really liked, I would immediately start rewatching it. Going back to those episodes is comforting."


But like Anoushka, Tushar Kaushik, a 32-year-old writer, has a different approach to dealing with the "emptiness." He says there have been several shows that he has left midway because he couldn't bear to come to terms with the end.

"And this feeling doesn't just apply to shows or books. I have been religiously watching all FIFA World Cup matches for the past month. Now that the final is here, I have no idea how I will deal with it once it's all over!"
Tushar Kaushik, Writer

For Anoushka, watching a TV show isn't just about identifying with the characters or enjoying the plot – it's a way to escape the mundane. "I tend to jump to another show as soon as I finish the one I'm watching. Sometimes, I don't even finish it – I'll leave the last episode out because I don't want it to end. I always need a parallel world I can slip into, so I don't have to deal with reality. It's like a safety net."


Explaining why we tend to do this, Nishtha says, "When we talk about escape or avoidance-based mechanisms, PSD tends to come up. There would be one series that a person would go back to. Two series are extremely common in this regard – Friends and Bojack Horseman. It either helps people process their feelings about something, or they just want to avoid it and be in a fantasy world for a while."


How Does One Tackle This?

Dr Syeda Ruksheda, a psychiatrist, says there are several ways one can transition out of PSD.

"First thing you can do is talk about it. Share your experiences, your thoughts, and feelings with other fans or on social media. It makes it easier for you to let go. When you're talking about it, the show and the characters come alive again. Then it's easier for you to let go," she tells FIT.

Some people even write fan fiction to deal with PSD productively, she adds. "Fan fiction has grown more and more popular over the years with Harry Potter. It's a productive way of keeping the character alive while letting go of them as well."

Connecting with people outside the fictional world may also be helpful to some, says Dr Ruksheda.

"You got a dopamine hit while watching something you liked. And now that's missing. So, it takes some time for your brain to recalibrate. Stepping away from the fictional world can help speed up the process."

When Should You Be Worried?

"PSD is almost like a grief period. But it is also dependent on your overall mental health, quality of life, etc. The lower your quality of life, the higher the chances of you being severely affected by PSD. We may call it a mild adjustment disorder, depending on the level of symptoms that you have, the duration, and the intensity," Dr Ruksheda explains.

Nishtha concurs, and adds that PSD doesn't really have to be addressed, "unless and until it creates a sense of dissonance or emotional instability in your life."

"When it comes to any sort of potential depression or mental health related issue, what we usually look at are: First, is it an intense episode that has lasted more than a month? Second, does it come and go over six months, and when it comes, is a person is unable to be functional? In both these cases, seek help."
Nishtha Budhiraja, Child Psychologist

In short, if you find yourself struggling hard to accept that a series or book has ended, and if this feeling is affecting your day-to-day functioning, you may need professional help, according to experts.

(This story was originally published on 20 December 2022. It has been updated and republished from The Quint's archives as hit shows Succession and Ted Lasso end their run.)

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Topics:  Books   Depression   Movies 

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