How Do Fictional Depictions of Bipolar Disorder Get It Wrong?

Bipolar disorder is a potentially debilitating mental condition that can torture the mind. It’s common for people with bipolar disorder turn to drugs and alcohol to help numb the pain. Most people who go this route learn that drugs only temporarily mask the agony and can even cause more problems. People need to tackle the bipolar disorder to truly resolve the problem. However, many people learn about their disorder through the media, movie, and television. These depictions can lead to a misunderstanding of the condition and how to get better. Here is how fiction depictions of bipolar disorder get it wrong.

1. Portraying people with bipolar as violent criminals

It is certainly true that people with bipolar may sometimes struggle to control their emotions. However, this usually involves depression and manic episodes of extreme energy. In some movies, people with bipolar attack other people presumptuously because of their disorder. An example of this is in the movie Silver Linings Playbook. Bradley Cooper’s character attacks his ex’s new lover. While the movie portrays the illness quite well, this one scene isn’t necessarily accurate. Bipolar disorder does not make people violent.

2. Portraying people with bipolar as overly competent

On the other end of the spectrum, there are some shows that make bipolar look like an inconsequential aspect of a person’s life. In some cases, a character with bipolar may even be portrayed as being a genius. This happens in Empire. One character suffers from bipolar but it does not seem to affect his ambitious business ventures at all. In reality, bipolar can prevent someone from accomplishing things without regular therapy and possibly medication.

3. Confusing bipolar with other disorders

Bipolar is a unique disease. However, many movies and television shows confuse it or combine it with other disorders. Most often, bipolar is confused with autism. They may portray someone with “bipolar” as someone on the spectrum. They may also confuse bipolar with dissociative disorder where people have multiple personalities. People with bipolar do not suffer from the same social issues and sensitivity to light and sound as people with autism. Also, people with bipolar do not have multiple personalities.

4. Using the disorder as a plot device

We all know that life isn’t quite like what we see on screen. Some writers incorporate bipolar into the story as a plot device instead of taking time to actually portray the disease accurately. For example, in Homeland, a character gets manic episodes. However, the episodes strike at extremely convenient times. In reality, a manic episode isn’t a means to an end. If anything, it takes a person away from their ultimate goal. Also, they won’t occur when it can produce a positive result. It happens randomly, without warning, and, often, at unfortunate times.

5. Medication can make everything better

Many people with bipolar benefit greatly from mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, or other medications. However, many depictions give the medication far too much power. In certain shows, a character may go on a killing spree when they stop taking their medication. While the medication will prevent extreme depression and manic episodes, it cannot generally stop someone with bipolar from a murder spree. In some shows, characters with bipolar are instantly cured when they start taking medication. The truth of the matter is that many people only find mild relief from medication. Most people need to combine medication with talk therapy and a healthy lifestyle. Also, it can take weeks for medication to take effect. That is if the patient takes to the medication. any times, patients must try different doses and different medications to find what actually works for them.

6. Bipolar is fun

One of the defining characteristics of bipolar disorder is manic episodes. You may notice someone bouncing off the walls and making impulsive decisions, such as spending too much money. Many movies and television shows make it appear as though this is fun and exciting. In many cases, they don’t show the aftermath of impulsive decisions. In reality, people end up regretting these decisions terribly. These decisions can also lead to long periods of severe depression. When creating a character with bipolar disorder, it’s important to be as accurate as possible. That will help people find relief. Start by getting help with drug abuse at a rehabilitation center. It’s the first step to healing. Call us at 844-639-8371.

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