Bipolar Disorder on the Screen
Sometimes called manic depression, bipolar disorder is a mental health condition which causes someone to experience extremely low and high moods. Sufferers go through periods of time when they feel overly joyful and happy, and then other periods when they feel extremely sad or angry. Due to the low and high moods, which are polar opposites, the condition got its name “bipolar disorder”.
What Does Bipolar Disorder Mean?
While it may sound that there is some kind of pattern to sufferers’ moods, in fact there is no definitive cyclic pattern. Sometimes, sufferers experience lows and highs simultaneously. This is known as a mixed state). Bipolar illness is characterized by manic episodes. To obtain a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, someone must have experienced a minimum of one manic episode during their life, even if they have never experienced a depressive episode.
The word “manic” or “hypomania” is used to describe the times when a sufferer feels extremely confident and excited. These feelings may rapidly turn into irritability, confusion, rage and anger. The term “depressive” is used to describe the times when the sufferer feels extremely depression or sad. Since there are very similar symptoms, some people suffering from bipolar depression end up with an incorrect diagnosis of major depression. Yet, most people suffering from bipolar disorder will be in a depressed phase for three times longer than they will be in a manic phase.
Who Suffers From Bipolar Disorder?
Usually, the signs of bipolar disorder will appear in young adults or older teens. Around 50% of cases will appear before the age of 25. Adolescents and children, however, may develop a more severe form of this disease, and it can sometimes be seen in combination with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Bipolar disorder may be genetically inherited, with many cases occurring within families.
Although both sexes can suffer from bipolar disorder, women are generally more likely to suffer from Bipolar II disorder. This means that they experience both hypomanic and depressive episodes but without the severe manic episodes which are seen in cases of Bipolar I. Females suffering from bipolar disorder often change moods more rapidly too in a process known as “rapid cycling”. Women may also be more at risk of experience more depressive periods than men.
Around 60% of bipolar disorder sufferers also have an alcohol or drug dependence, and people with anxiety disorders such as PTSD and seasonal depression are more at risk too.
What Are The Signs Of Bipolar Disorder?
When someone has bipolar disorder, their changing moods don’t always have a specific pattern. A manic phase may not always be followed by a depressive episode. Sufferers may experience the same state several times before they experience the opposite mood. Changes in mood can also happen over several years, months or weeks.
A key element of mood changes in bipolar disorder is that they represent a complete change from the sufferer’s usual self. Also, the mood change will be sustained over an extended period of several days, weeks or even months. The severity of the moods may also differ.
The signs of a manic episode include:
- Excessive excitement, hopefulness and happiness
- A sudden change between joy and anger, irritability or hostility
- Poor concentration
- Rapid speech
- A higher sex drive
- Less need to sleep
- Increased energy
- A tendency to devise unattainable plans
- Poor judgment and impulsive actions
- Alcohol and drug abuse
Occasionally, sufferers may see and hear things which aren’t there. They may also hold false beliefs which they won’t give up. They make even think they have super powers and skills or be god-like.
Bipolar depression symptoms are identical to those displayed by those suffering from major depression. They include:
- Lack of energy
- Feeling worthless or hopeless
- Getting no enjoyment from something they once enjoyed
- Poor concentration
- Uncontrollable crying
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Inability to make a decision
- Excessive sleep or insomnia
- Thoughts of suicide or death
- Attempting suicide
- Changes in appetite which cause weight gain or loss
- Delusions and psychotic symptoms
The Importance Of Seeing Bipolar Disorder On The Screen
Bipolar disorder is difficult to cope with in everyday life, and one major issue which accompanies this condition is feeling you are isolated and alone. The way that this disorder is poorly understood even by people diagnosed with it is why it’s so important to see bipolar disorder depicted on screen. There are many movies about this mental health condition which can help you to feel more accepted and understood. They can also help your friends and family to gain greater insights into your problems.
If you’re keen to watch some movies about bipolar disorder or you want to recommend some to your loved ones so they can find out more about what you’re going through, here are some of our top recommendations.
Starring Christina Ricci, this 2001 movie is all about a college student named Elizabeth Wurtzel who is going through a troubled time. Her mother is played by Jessica Lange, and many bipolar sufferers will find it easy to relate to the rage and violent outbursts which occur during the movie as well as the remorseful and tearful apologies that inevitably follow.
This movie effectively conveys the torment which bipolar disorder sufferer’s go through, particularly before they have been properly diagnosed and medicated. The risky behaviors, violent mood changes, substance abuse, confusion and challenging relationships will be all-too-familiar to sufferers and all are depicted brilliantly in this drama.
Even more importantly, Prozac Nation is a movie based on a true story. Taking its inspiration from the bestselling memoir of Wurtzel herself which was published back in 1994, the story focuses on the main character’s spiral downwards after being accepted into Harvard.
Another 2001 movie about the struggle of living through everyday life suffering from bipolar disorder is Crazy Beautiful. Starring Kirsten Dunst, the story follows a rich high school student in California who struggles with mental health problems and her poor but over-achieving boyfriend (played by Jay Hernandez) who lives on the other side of the town.
There is no official reveal of Dunst’s character’s diagnosis in the movie, however she displays characteristic symptoms and signs of bipolar disorder. Her boyfriend finds it hard to handle her unstable behavior that threatens to impact on his personal achievements and goals.
The Ghost And The Whale
This recent movie isn’t just a fascinating portrayal of the realities of living with bipolar disorder but it’s also a troublingly honest movie. The tragic story examines what happens if someone who has untreated bipolar disorder experiences a sudden loss. The movie was produced by Maurice Bernard together with his wife, and it provides insights into just how challenging psychosis from bipolarity can be to live with.
If you’re ready for the emotional upset of watching a heart-breaking movie about bipolar disorder, Repentance is the one for you. Depicting mental illness, loss and grief, the violent drama from Forest Whitaker doesn’t just hit home with a hard punch, it also makes those suffering from bipolar disorder and their families alike think again about what their loved ones are experiencing.
Silver Linings Playbook
One of the best known movies to ever be made about people suffering from bipolar disorder is Silver Linings Playbook. Even more surprisingly, for such a famous title, it’s also highly accurate. This romantic comedy isn’t lacking in drama, and looks sympathetically at the problems that mental health issues can cause within loving relationships.
The main character, a bipolar disorder sufferer played by Bradley Cooper, is trying to persuade his ex-wife to return to him after bipolar disorder has destroyed their relationship. Having been hospitalized in a psychiatric ward through a court order, he is trying to put his life back together again while surrounded by other characters who also suffer from a range of mental health issues.
From Jennifer Lawrence’s widow who suffers from sex addiction to Robert de Niro who has OCD and gambling issues, this is a fascinating movie which was directed by David O Russell after he chose the project due to his own son’s bipolar diagnosis. Despite the troubling subject matter, this movie has a feel-good vibe without ever compromising on its realism.
Infinitely Polar Bear
Infinitely Polar Bear may not be one of the best known movies out there, but it has the distinction of being based on fact. Inspired by events during the childhood of the director, stars big Hollywood names Zoe Saldana and Mark Ruffalo, and shows viewers an intimate insight into family life when the father has bipolar disorder which is so severe that he’s unable to work. One of the most heart-breaking aspects of this story is that it’s clear that the father loves his family but simply can’t do right by them because of his mental illness. It’s sure to resound with sufferers everywhere.
Starring a youthful-looking Drew Barrymore, this is a fairly sensationalist movie about bipolar disorder, but it’s worth a watch. Heavy on the romance, and with extreme bipolar symptoms, this may not be the entertainment industry’s most accurate portrayal of mental health issues, however, it is a sympathetic yet enjoyable look at bipolar disorder.
Unlike Mad Love, which focuses on extreme and exaggerated symptoms that may make bipolar sufferers look every bit as wild as the world in general believe they are, Michael Clayton takes a very different approach. Unlike the majority of bipolar disorder movies on this list which focus on the impact on the sufferer’s relationships or their mood swings, this movie emphasizes the fact bipolar people aren’t as mad as they’re thought to be.
The story centers around a lawyer called Arthur Edens who suffers from bipolar illness. He stops taking his medication and starts to claim that his phone is being tapped while he’s working on a big-time corporate legal case. Of course, everyone thinks it’s simply paranoia from his unmedicated bipolar disorder, however all too soon, Edens turns up dead. The Michael Clayton of the title is his rival lawyer (played by Hollywood megastar George Clooney), and he ends up discovering that there has been a massive cover-up operation going on which proves Edens really wasn’t all that crazy. It’s a true thriller and also gives a positive message about bipolar disorder sufferers.
If you’re look for a warts and all interpretation of the life of a manic depressive, Pollock is the movie for you, although it makes difficult watching for sufferers. Unlike many other movies on this subject, it doesn’t sugar coat the horrors of the main character’s life. You see his suffering in all his grim reality, from his inability to feel happiness at his own success to passing out in a gutter. The viewer is treated to a true insight of what it’s really like to experience emotions which swing wildly and fully explores how worrying and even frightening it can be to be near someone who is suffering from this disorder.
The Depictions Of Bipolar Disorder On Screen
While there are many movies which have characters who suffer from bipolar disorder, not all have the same viewpoint. It’s interesting, however, to see how the world of Hollywood interprets mental illness, and just as interesting to see how viewers respond to these interpretations. For anyone who wants to gain a greater insight into their own condition or the suffering of their loved ones, any of these movies would be a good place to start.
If you’re living with bipolar disorder, seeing yourself and your struggles on the big screen might be the jumpstart that you need in order to get treatment.
The Meadowglade is a luxurious residential treatment facility with trained staff and many different types of therapy opportunities to help you learn how to better manage your bipolar disorder. Reach out today to find out how we can help you heal!