It’s estimated that 4.4 percent of Americans will experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives.
It’s important for people living with bipolar disorder to be represented in film and TV. Yet, the media often exaggerates the emotional highs and lows of the condition.
People with bipolar disorder can look like anyone. They’re old and young, work fulfilling jobs, and have loving friends and families. A more accurate representation can help raise awareness of the condition and reduce the stigma around mental illness.
The following are some movies and TV shows that included a character with bipolar disorder and did it well. They accomplished this by showing what it’s like to experience episodes of mania as well as the incredibly low moods that can be part of bipolar disorder.
These characters have families, friends, and co-workers who care about their well-being. Some of these movies and shows address the challenge of caring for a loved one with bipolar disorder.
In several of these shows and movies, treatment decisions are explored and challenged. Just as in real life, it can be quite a journey to find the right care and treatment options for you or your loved one.
‘Silver Linings Playbook’
This 2012 movie is based on the book written by Matthew Quick. It’s about a man named Pat who gets into trouble with the law and ends up in a psychiatric hospital.
At the hospital, he’s diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Pat has trouble accepting this diagnosis. After leaving the hospital, he moves back in with his parents.
Pat was married and working as a teacher before going into the hospital. He’s determined to get this life back. Pat doesn’t like how the medication makes him feel and doesn’t think he needs it. He wants to manage his bipolar disorder on his own.
The movie accurately depicts manic episodes: Pat comes up with complex plans to win back his wife. At times, he speaks rapidly, blurts out whatever ideas pop into his head, and barely sleeps.
It also shows how his family and friends respond to his bipolar disorder. They’re loving and supportive. It’s wonderful to see the role they play in his recovery.
“Homeland” is a show that ran from 2011 to 2020. It features a CIA agent named Carrie who has bipolar disorder.
Carrie, played by Claire Danes, believes that an American prisoner of war is actually an Al-Qaeda spy. Many people are celebrating this prisoner as a hero, but Carrie’s instincts are telling her otherwise.
The series is a thrilling game of cat and mouse, with brilliant Carrie at the top of her game. Carrie has the ability to think quickly, pull off complex plans, and be spontaneous. These traits may be associated with bipolar disorder, and they serve her well as a CIA agent.
The constant stress of her position takes a toll, however, and makes it more difficult to manage her bipolar disorder.
‘Degrassi: The Next Generation’
This Canadian TV series ran from 2001 to 2015. It’s the newest installment of the Degrassi shows that aired in the 1980s and 1990s.
The show follows a group of students who deal with a variety of challenges typical to teenagers. It’s praised for having real-life characters tackle tough themes.
The series features two characters with bipolar disorder: Eli Goldsworthy and Craig Manning. They are otherwise typical teenagers with friends, relationships, and dreams. The viewer gets to see how living with bipolar disorder impacts their lives and the people around them.
In every “Degrassi” series, in fact, there have been characters with mental health conditions.
This 2007 movie is an intense legal thriller about a law firm tasked with defending a giant, very guilty corporation. The class action suit is worth billions of dollars, so stakes and tension are high.
Tom Wilkinson plays Arthur Edens. He’s a senior lawyer at the firm who’s living with bipolar disorder. He’s not taking his medication, however, and has a manic episode while in court. He’s removed from the case.
This movie deals with tough topics like not taking medication and involuntary hospitalization.
‘Infinitely Polar Bear’
This 2014 movie is based on the childhood of writer and director Maya Forbes.
The movie takes place in the 1970s. The father, Cameron (Mark Ruffalo), lives with bipolar disorder. When the mom gets into grad school, she moves away and Cameron takes on the care of their daughters.
“Infinitely Polar Bear” shows how bipolar disorder can disrupt a family.
During his episodes of mania, Cameron is creative and spontaneous. He’s full of life and ideas. This is both charming and frustrating for his family.
Life with their dad is not easy for the girls. Cameron sometimes stops taking his medication and tries to self-medicate with alcohol instead.
There are lots of challenges, but also lots of love.
This movie from 1993 is about a man who ends up in an inpatient treatment center for his bipolar disorder.
The film conveys the highs and lows of living with bipolar disorder. The main character, played by Richard Gere, doesn’t want to take medication.
The things he does during an episode of mania make perfect sense to him. He doesn’t want to give up the freedom and euphoria he feels during manic episodes.
In treatment, his therapist falls in love with him. She knows the rules about falling for a patient but can’t resist his charm.
‘Touched with Fire’
This intense 2016 movie invites the audience to experience the episodes of mania and depression that, in some cases, may both be experienced with bipolar disorder.
“Touched with Fire” is about two talented poets living with bipolar disorder. They meet in a treatment facility when they’re both experiencing episodes of mania.
They believe these episodes are fueling their creativity and that going back on medication would suppress their passion, which feels unthinkable to them.
The two poets continue their romance after they leave the facility. However, their loved ones worry the two lovers aren’t managing their condition properly.
This 2009 movie is based on a true story about a whistleblower in a big company.
Mark Whitacre (played by Matt Damon) is an executive at Archer-Daniels-Midland, who lives with bipolar disorder.
He agrees to provide inside information to the FBI for an investigation. At the same time, he’s taking millions of dollars from the company for himself.
Being in a state of mania helps him keep this incredibly complicated plan going for a while. However, the stress and strain of this elaborate scheme worsens his condition.
This movie gives the viewer some insight into the inner workings of Whitacre’s incredible brain during an episode of mania.
The real-life Whitacre now works to reduce stigma around mental illness.
‘Bipolar Rock ‘N’ Roller’
This is a 2018 documentary about Mauro Ranallo.
He’s been a sports broadcaster since he was 16 years old, and he has made history in the combat sports world as the only broadcaster to call all televised combat sports. This includes boxing, mixed martial arts, kickboxing, and professional wrestling.
Along with his remarkable career, Mauro has lived with bipolar disorder since his teens. He created this documentary to share his journey and hardships.
In it, he reflects on the intensity of his career and how it affected his bipolar disorder. People in Mauro’s life also share their experiences. They talk about his emotional outbursts, intense rage, and deep depression.
Mauro advocates for mental health and works to reduce the stigma around mental illness.
This 2015 movie isn’t specific to bipolar disorder and is marketed as a kids’ movie, but it does a great job of depicting the condition.
“Inside Out” explores how the human brain deals with feelings and memories. There are characters representing five big feelings: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust.
The story helps the audience understand how emotions work. It also shows what happens when things get out of balance.
Representation of people with bipolar disorder in movies and TV shows is important if they and their condition are portrayed accurately.
There are many harmful stereotypes about people with mental health conditions. Featuring characters with bipolar disorder in movies and TV can help build understanding about the condition and reduce stigma.