Bipolar Disorder on Television: Empire (Andre)

The hit show Empire continues to increase in popularity as it addresses many issues that are not always given attention, especially not on a nationally syndicated show that receives such high ratings. Similar to almost everything in life, there are criticisms of the show and its depiction of certain things, especially the show’s portrayal of the effects of Bipolar Disorder, which was brought to a dramatic head in last week’s episode. In discussions with others, some did not receive the show’s portrayal of Bipolar Disorder in a positive manner. There have been criticisms surrounding...

-       the quick change of Andre’s mood

-       the extreme behavior exemplified  as symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

-       the lack of background information leading up to this point in his life

-       showing symptoms of a different mental illness that may not necessarily hold true to Bipolar Disorder

-       the elevator scene

I have a slightly different viewpoint.

-       An hour-long episode, or even a season-long show would be too short a time span for any writer to completely show the transition period in a person suffering from Bipolar Disorder change of mood, which totters between mania and depression. This process can occur over a period of days, weeks, months, or even years.  But for the sake of television, they had to condense some things.

-       The extreme signs of aggression were not too far fetched. Triggers for aggressive behavior can range from something as small as a word to something as large as someone physically touching you. In all cases, what you think is happening to you has a greater effect on your behavior than what is actually happening.  People respond to stimuli in various ways; emotionally, mentally, and physically.

-       The scene within the elevator not only showed Andre reacting, but it also showed the value of having a support system. Although his brother’s have never shown they were aware of his mental illness throughout the show, they supported him in his time of need and deescalated him with bringing back “good memories”.

As a person who suffers from Bipolar Disorder I did not critique the show’s ability to accurately show each of the symptoms, but praised the show’s ability to spark the interest for people to talk about it, research it, and gain more knowledge. Questions and realizations that are particularly fundamental to increasing awareness and breaking the stigma include:

-       What is Bipolar Disorder?

-       What are the symptoms?

-       How much of this really occurs?

-       Mental illness can touch anyone; no matter race, social status, or gender

-       How to handle someone who may suffer from mental illness

-       How to recognize a mental illness

I’m very interested to see how the writers of Empire will expand on Andre’s story. And whether or not you agree, understand or relate to the character, I encourage to you continue having meaningful conversations about mental health.

The Highest of Highs

Television has a way to occupy a portion of your evenings.   Especially with the help of social media, it is easy to get sucked into a series as everyone connects about the storyline via the Internet.   The new craze for many is the show Empire. The latest episode introduced an interesting plot twist occurred when a key character exposed that he is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. During the episode, signs are evident that the character is experiencing a manic episode as he seems highly energetic, he knocks out a large amount of work, and he consuming a large amount of alcohol instead of taking his medication.

Bipolar Disorder is characterized by distinctive episodes, and Mania can be very problematic as symptoms include:

  • A decreased need for sleep
  • A feeling of invincibility
  • Racing thoughts

During my episodes of mania, sleep is not an option and I can function with little to no sleep.   Throughout this sleep hiatus, I feel like I can take on the world.

I am creative.

  • Writing becomes more fluent as my word flow easier
  • I come up with ideas to effectively get things done at work and school
  • I have "brilliant" ideas to change the world

Unfortunately, much of this stuff happens almost simultaneously in my head and completing one thing before moving to the next is almost impossible

I am strong physically and mentally

  • my performance in the gym becomes unmatched as I lift heavy amounts of weights
  • I am not easily phased by the opinions and use it to push me to new heights that may not really be obtainable
  • My muscles don’t get tired and multiple workouts in a day are not uncommon

High physical activity with no rest places a strain on the body and not taking heed to the opinions of others can lead to trouble.

I am emotional

  • I write notes to random people in my life at 3 in the morning.
  • I send text messages or call people that I think are up in the middle of the night and attempt to hold random conversations
  • I can be sensual and hyper-sexual

Often times there is not always someone there to talk to in the middle of the night. So I have hopped in the car just to drive. Hours later I find myself in a random place, not knowing how I got there.

I am invincible.

  • Hopping on motorcycle without a helmet and speeding down the highway.
  • Agreeing to things like Sky Diving and Bungee Jumping (Not saying that I wouldn't normally do this, but I actively look to do these things in this state)
  • I can out drink anyone when it comes to alcohol

Ever witnessed a kid run into the corner of a table and knock out their teeth and they keep playing as if nothing happen? (My cousin has done this twice LOL) Pain is irrelevant and is not a factor as I make decisions and perform actions.  There is no fear.



This feeling is very addicting. But what person does not like the feeling of being alive?

BUT...there is a downside to heighten sense of life. The body has physical limitations and if your mind does not acknowledge this, your physical being will not be able to keep up.

One thing to keep in mind with this extremely high mood; what goes up must come down.

All Things Considered

All three lives (the two police officers and the shooter) lost Saturday were tragedies and I cannot imagine what each family is experiencing. Yesterday while in the barbershop I saw this video about the headline story that has caused much controversy. Despite speculations surrounding motives and connections to other events that have recently occurred, there is a deeper issue at hand; Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s mental health and how it was handled.  

Disclaimer: The following is not an attack on the Brinsley family, but an attack on society and our outlook on behaviors and mental health


In the interview, Ismaaiyl's sister acknowledges that her brother was her best friend but when his behavior started to change she had to separate herself from him.

I get it.  I have cut people off because their lack of willingness to change or seek help would eventually bring me down, but at what point do we accept the task of helping the person that does not fit our “perfect” picture of how life should be?

News sources report that Brinsley’s mother stated that her son struggled with mental illness his entire life but refused help from family.   I can attest to refusing help from others about my mental illness for a number of reasons, but I can also attest to the nonchalant attitude people have towards mental illness in the black community. A suggestion to “just pray about it and everything will be okay” is not always the solution. Ignoring the signs will not make it better.

“He needed help, he didn’t get it” – Jalaa’a Brinsley

It can be difficult to recognize that you have a problem and that you need help; sometimes you need someone to MAKE you get help and that requires others to step up and assume that role when necessary.

  • Family and friends may suggest certain things but they are not always comfortable with challenging someone to seek help that they may need. Many times we (I say we because I do it too) revert to “they are grown”, “I told them to do this but they won’t listen to me”, and “I got my own problems”.
  • You The Judicial system, as Jalaa’a Brinsley points out, is quick to incarcerate a person but fails to coordinate with the necessary resources to determine the root of the problem as to why the individual committed the crime, especially in the case of Ismaaiyl Brinsley numerous criminal acts.

The news report also states that Ismaaiyl Brinsley made a phone call to his mother prior to the shooting but the family refuses to speak on the topic.

We have been quiet about issues that impact our community far too long and it does not make things any easier.   We must speak out on things and have open discussion in order to reach a resolution and the topic of mental health needs to be addressed to prevent some of the things that go on in the world today.