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.