Homeland - Is it Good for Bipolar Disorder Awareness?
If you haven’t been turning in to Homeland, you’ve been missing out on a new bipolar icon. Homeland stars Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) office who, unbeknownst to her employer, has bipolar disorder.
Of course, the reason I tuned is was to see how this show handles mental illness. And they do not too bad a job.
As the show starts, we meet Carrie who is an incredible intelligence officer who is often able to make links between intelligence events that others can’t make. She also handles going undercover and manipulation well. We find out she has bipolar I and is on an antipsychotic, but this information is slipped into the show and not made a bid deal of.
Carrie is über-high-functioning, almost to the point of seeming like a superhero. But, this is TV, after all. Average people need not apply.
By the end of the first season, though, we see the stress of trying to catch a major terrorist cause Carrie to buckle. Finally, a bomb blast sends her into a manic episode and she has to be hospitalized.
During a hospital visit, a close co-worker discovers she has bipolar disorder. For a while, he helps her conceal it because if the CIA knew she had bipolar, they would revoke her security clearance. Through a rather complicated series of events, Carrie ends up admitting herself to a hospital and undergoes electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
The Good About Homeland
A lot has been said about how this show is a boon for people with a mental illness. After all, it shows a woman with a serious mental illness surviving and even thriving in a job many of your average types could never handle. Moreover, while her character is intense and flawed, she is portrayed as a very normal person.
And from my perspective, it’s very progressive of them to have their lead character, who is entirely brilliant, undergo electroconvulsive therapy, the second most controversial treatment in medicine. That one scene does a lot to bring that treatment out of the closet.
The Bad About Homeland
The thing is, she really is like a superhero and that raises the bar for average mentally ill people to a level most of us will never reach. Personally, I haven’t stopped a terrorist attack on my country in quite a while. How about you? Moreover, the average person with a severe mental illness could never live the kind of lifestyle that Carrie has in terms of her schedule, lack of sleep, travel and so on. People with bipolar require stability which is the least of what Carrie’s life has to offer.
Moreover, it’s intimated that the reason she is so good at her job and making connections between disparate pieces of data is because she has bipolar disorder. The show perpetrates the myth that with bipolar disorder, you get some kind of talent as a “parting gift” when really, we’re just like everyone else, with and without special talents. (Yes, our creativity has been shown to be higher.)
Overall I’m thrilled this show is on the air. I won’t go into the second season, but there are some powerful scenes in the first few episodes there as well. For a few moments, it does feel like what it’s like to be in a bipolar head. It’s not glossy or funny or wrapped up in a bow. It’s just pain and tears and impossible choices.
So really, well done. The good far outweighs the bad and I really hope they can continue to bring Carrie’s mental illness into the show’s storyline in a realistic and meaningful way.
Image from Wikipedia.
Tracy, N. (2012, October 22). Homeland - Is it Good for Bipolar Disorder Awareness?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2012/10/homeland-good-bipolar-disorder-awareness
Author: Natasha Tracy
This season has been great too. I've never taken pills, but have been tempted. I was very happy to see her stop herself.
I do agree that most of us couldn't live her lifestyle or have her job, but when we look at a list of the "famous" people who live/lived with bipolar it is evident that it is possible to do it.
With that being said I watched Homeland mainly b/c I was interested in the plot & characters. When I saw Carrie functioning as bipolar I paid attention and read comments from bipolar viewers saying they liked how it was being done. I just wanted it to be real & accurate.
As for the whole superhero thing, I feel the end of the first season shows us exactly why her job isn't healthy for her as the writers have stated in interviews. She crashes when she is under too much pressure. But at home, with a routine, she flourishes. However we all know she is addicted to her job and just like her relationship with Brody, she can't stay away from something that's bad for her. I see more of that than any kind of superhero thing. I think Carrie can make mistakes, fall & spiral out like the rest of us. She just chooses to walk that fine line.
And it feels like the first TV show ever made for someone my age (37). I almost feel like Angela Chase could have grown up to be Carrie Mathison.
Am not sure the CIA would be the best career choice for sufferers. But many people with mental health suffer in silence and keep it secret from employers just like the Carrie character.