It’s that time of year when TV shows finish forever. Succession’s nasty media scions ended their backstabbing and bickering. Midge concluded her journey in search of comedic stardom on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. And the May 30th episode of soccer dramedy Ted Lasso was probably the last. Maybe you watched these finales and found the resolutions satisfying. Even so, if you’re a superfan, perhaps you also experienced a bit of despair. It’s not unhappiness with the ending of a narrative, necessarily, but unhappiness that the narrative was ending.
If you’ve felt deflated once a favorite show has wrapped up, you’re not alone. There’s even an unofficial term for it: post-series depression, or PSD.
“It’s a feeling of emptiness and upset when a series or something that you really love is finishing or ending,” says Rita Kottasz, an associate professor of marketing at Kingston University, London, who has been at the forefront of post-series depression research. Whether it’s TV, a book, or a video game, there is a yearning, she says, “that you want more of it.”
The difference between PSD and depression
The concept of PSD gained traction on social media and in fan blogs in the mid-2010s. “It makes sense as a non-clinical way to describe a contemporary psychological phenomenon, which we’ve probably seen more during the Golden Age of TV,” says Chicago-based psychologist Brian Kong, citing Game of Thrones as a show with huge cultural influence.
Kottasz doesn’t particularly like the name PSD, and makes a distinction between clinical depression and the more colloquial sense of being down. In a draft of her 2020 paper on the phenomenon, she called it “consumer saudade,” using a Portuguese word that lacks a direct English translation. It is a sensation sort of like nostalgic longing. (The 17th-century writer Manuel de Melo called saudade “a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.”) Ultimately, a journal editor persuaded her to swap out the phrase, and Kottasz chose PSD because it was established outside of research.
In the 2019 study, Kottasz and her colleagues published a 15-item classification scale for PSD, based on interviews with fans who reported sadness after their favorite things ended. She collected the most frequent emotions associated with PSD from the replies: among them, feeling frustrated, disappointed, indignant, sad, or empty inside. Some said they felt “that life is less complete now that the series is over” or that they had lost a few of their “best friends.”
Although post-series depression suggests a focus on TV shows (a 2020 survey indicated male fans of Breaking Bad seem to be particularly susceptible to PSD), Kottasz is probing the connection to other kinds of media. Her ongoing research includes the abruptly announced hiatus of K-pop band BTS, which may have crushed young fans. It’s also applicable to novels. Millennials who grew up with Harry Potter—reading the books as children, then watching the movies as teens or adults—have expressed it. She found that “younger people are definitely more affected” than older ones, which can be attributed in part to the shift to on-demand streaming of shows and films. Business models that constantly push new content, such as Netflix recommendations that invite viewers to watch similar shows as soon as a series is finished, might contribute to this, too. “Companies are incredibly good at playing on the emotions of consumers,” she says.
Contrary to what you might expect, though, the sensation doesn’t seem to be triggered by binge-watching, Kottasz says. Instead, long-term consumption may be a factor. Kottasz thinks watching a show over several seasons or reading novels across many years strengthens a person’s relationship to the characters. In her 2019 paper, she cites a Harry Potter devotee who started reading the series at age 9 and was “cruelly left behind” after the final book and film released years later.
But it isn’t quite as simple as saying the end of a show or novel controls our emotional state. Kong is concerned that the phrase PSD might imply a causal relationship between low moods and a program’s end. Instead, he says that when viewers feel lasting negativity, TV consumption might be acting as an anesthetic for a deeper psychological issue, like how some people with anxiety or depression drink alcohol. Put another way, the low mood already existed, and watching the series only masked it.
Why it’s so hard to say goodbye
There’s no reason to be worried if you get sad or annoyed with the ending of a series you adore—after all, Kong says, people do feel emotionally connected with and invested in fictional characters. For most people, the negative feelings should dissipate shortly.
If you’re looking to perk up when a finale has you down, though, “the short, Band-Aid answer is to move on to another series,” Kong says. “The bigger-picture answer is to make the show less central in your life and wellbeing. It might be a red flag if you have no other interests beyond a show or other series.”
For those who experience strong PSD, the sensation can last for weeks, Kottasz says. “It seems to be the case from the data that people who struggle with anxiety, depression, and loneliness may be more inclined to become really big fans,” she says, who in turn experience prolonged sadness. If that’s the case, it’s probably time to seek further help from therapists or other mental health specialists.
What makes PSD more unusual than feelings of nostalgia or other losses, Kottasz says, is that enthusiasts “do have an opportunity to get things back” by persuading creators to make reboots, revivals, or spinoffs. Precedent for this dates back to before electronic TVs were invented: Author Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes for good in 1893, only to resurrect the consulting detective in the early 1900s. The BBC suggests it was the first revival of a character after fan outcry.
Aficionados can engage in other ways. One is travel, mixing tourism with fandom to experience a franchise in real life. Think Lord of the Rings buffs who visit filming locations like “Mount Doom” in New Zealand, or Game of Thrones fanatics who tour Belfast and Dubrovnik. The pattern continues. On May 29, the Monday after Succession aired for the last time, fans flocked to New York City’s Battery Park, the scene of the series’s final shot.