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?
“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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