Does ‘Empire’ get bipolar disorder right?

Does ‘Empire’ get bipolar disorder right?

“Empire” has become a television phenomenon, but has also taken center stage in the health care community because of one character – Andre Lyon.

Andre is an impressive individual who graduated at the top of his class and poised to take over his father’s music business. What makes him different is his bipolar disorder, a portrayal that has brought the illness to the forefront as many may be unfamiliar with the condition.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels and impacts one’s ability to carry out daily tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder can be severe.

But, just how accurately does the character in the hit television series portray the disease?

Joseph Smith, a psychiatric consultant at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago, says there are several things that are accurate and inaccurate on the show.

“One thing they got right is the mood swings,” says Smith. “There can be extremes on both ends when someone is dealing with bipolar disorder.”

Smith says one treatment option shown during the show has proven helpful for patients.

“The character tried music therapy,” says Smith. “Any kind of meditation or therapeutic process can be very helpful because the person starts to develop coping mechanisms that take their mind off of what they are going through.”

Less accurate is the way in which Andre acts after missing just one day of medication.

“Just like it takes days and weeks to get your body acclimated to the medication, it would take weeks for you to possibly spiral out of control if you didn’t take your medication,” Smith says. “It’s not going to happen after missing one dose.”

Smith believes it is unfair to look at one television portrayal of bipolar disorder and judge the entire population because mental illness doesn’t look exactly the same in everyone. Some people have far less severe symptoms, while others have a strong presence in their daily lives.

“I think it is good that they are showing this in a wealthy family because it can happen to anyone, and showing it in an African American family because many times as a community we don’t believe someone can have any mental disorder,” says Smith.

“This is educating a lot of people nationwide about bipolar disorder who wouldn’t have known anything about it in the first place. A large number of people watch “Empire” every week, and people are talking about Andre and bipolar disorder,” he says. “They may even begin to recognize some symptoms in family members.”


Photo credit: Fox

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  1. This article really did shed light on how bipolar disorder could look. I thought it was kind of weird for Andre’s character to “fly off the cliff” after missing one day of medication. It just did not seem realistic. And I do also agree that showing the disease taking hold of someone of African American descent is a phenomenal way to let particular communities know that this is not just a “white disease” or that blacks don’t have mental illness, that person is just crazy. It really does help shed light on the subject to let people know that mental illness does not discriminate against race or color. It can affect us all..Great read!

  2. Mental illness has a long way to go in being understood and the patients who suffer from the many forms of mental illness, being understood and treated appropirately by societies all over the world.
    Much like cancer, in the 1920s, until recent times, which was though to be caused by some bad, evil, antisocial behavore of the patient. Patients with cancer, if it became know they had the disease, were blamed, labeled as “bad”, and ostresised, for having the disease.
    When mental illness reaches the understanding of the public, the same way cancer now has, there will be improvement in the treatment of patients, and a move by health care to make thearapy modalities more readily available to patients suffering from mental illness.

  3. There are individuals on both sides of the family that have this disorder and I know that there is usually more then one day of missing meds. The program is not completely dwelling on every detail. The program even mention that Andre does not always stay on his meds through his wife. I remember a scene where his wife threatened him in order for Andre to get back on his meds.

  4. In viewing the show , I thought the portrayal. Was accurate. I see TV portrayals not in a day to day happening, but weeks could have passed. The references that he had not been on his medication was present in several episodes . The episode in which he was so depressed about his issues with family were extremely accurate , when pulled the trigger on the unloaded gun over and over, he was at the point where he needed to be hospitalized for an evaluation . I say keep it coming and to add PSA’s to tell people where they can receive help!!!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.