While not all television characters with bipolar disorder are accurately portrayed, there are some shows that get it right, with an authentic dramatization of mania, depression, and paranoia, and how relationships are affected.
TV Shows featuring Characters with Bipolar
On the small screen, characters with bipolar seem to be making their mark, with many storylines featuring bipolar more prominently. Given the complexities and nuances of symptoms, it’s no easy task to portray the important yet subtle details necessary to deliver an authentic characterization.
Fortunately, a handful of series, with writers willing to consult experts or actors pulling from personal experience, are exploring necessary topics like stigma, treatment adherence and stability, daily struggles, and the high-functioning levels of some brilliant fictional characters.
In this award-winning political thriller, Carrie Mathison (played by Claire Danes) is a CIA counterterrorism analyst who must also manage bipolar symptoms in a high-pressure environment. Mental health experts have praised the show’s clinical realism through its portrayal of Mathison’s volatile and unpredictable temperament, along with her relationship conflicts. Danes has been commended for her ability to blur the lines between her character’s disorder and personality, which can often be the case among those who live with bipolar. The eighth (and final) season wrapped up in April 2020, but the show will continue to stream on Showtime.
This popular comedy-drama follows a dysfunctional family headed by a single father raising six children in Chicago. The series features a mother-son duo, each living with bipolar. Ian Gallagher (played by Cameron Monaghan) deals with mania, addiction, and denial of his diagnosis. His mother, Monica Gallagher (Chloe Webb), has a long history of making bad choices. The 11th and final season is set to premiere in mid-2020 on Showtime cable television.
This romantic comedy anthology series is based on personal essays from the 15-year-long New York Times weekly column of the same name. It boasts big-name actors in different episodes, including Anne Hathaway, as Lexi, who reflects on failed relationships and how her bipolar disorder has affected her love life in the past. This episode was based on an essay by Terri Cheney, the author of Manic: A Memoir. The series is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Rapper/comedian Dave Burd (aka Lil Dicky) co-creates and stars in this new series on FXX, which is based on events from his real life. Both Dave and his pal GaTa (Davionte Ganter) play fictionalized versions of themselves, with Ganter drawing from his personal experience living with bipolar. In an episode called “Hype Man” and centered on GaTa, flashbacks reveal GaTa’s past struggles with severe mood instability. Later, he shares that he has bipolar and is on medication to manage it. Responding to their friend’s disclosure, the other characters accept him and his diagnosis without question. Both the episode and GaTa himself have been praised and recognized for having attained such an honest and moving portrayal.
Known for his role as mob boss Michael “Sonny” Corinthos Jr. on this hit daytime ABC soap, actor Maurice Benard made the ground-breaking decision in 2006 to have the show’s writers incorporate Benard’s bipolar disorder into his on-screen character. Because of this, Sonny offers a realistic portrayal of someone living with bipolar; his treatment (including on-screen use of medication), unpredictable temper, and self-destructive tendencies are all woven into the storyline.
This drama series premiered on HBO in the spring of 2019 and follows a group of teens through their experiences of love, friendship, identity, and trauma. The lead character, Rue Bennett (played by Zendaya), is said to be a realistic representation of a girl navigating her way with bipolar. In her hypomanic state, Bennett portrays someone hyper-focused and excitable; then, she is swallowed up by a depression that renders her unable to pull herself out of bed. It’s an authenticity, say fans of the show, that illustrates how life can happen in extremes. The series has been picked up for another season.
On the popular CBS soap, character Sharon Newman (played by Sharon Case) was given a bipolar diagnosis in 2012 by writers as a way to explain her past behavior of impulsivity, risky decisions, and emotional problems. Case herself has described her complex character as an “optimist and a survivor.” Fans have watched her troubled relationships throughout the years and are now hoping that in this upcoming season, Newman will find true love.
This Australian soap opera has been on the air for 35 years, and its cast has included well-known Aussies Russell Crow, Liam Hemsworth, and Kylie Minogue. Actor Simone Buchanan portrays Samantha “Sam” Fitzgerald, a smart, successful lawyer also living with and managing bipolar disorder. At one point, Fitzgerald goes off her medication, and her character is shown exhibiting both manic and paranoid symptoms. This series can be streamed on Hulu.
This popular series centers on the Lyon family’s fictional hip-hop music company, Empire Entertainment. The eldest son, Andre Lyon (played by Trai Byers), is CFO of the family business and has bipolar disorder. Early on, the intelligent and high-functioning character is shown managing his disorder through medication, but the series does not hold back on presenting his manic behavior—including compulsive buying and hypersexuality—and his deep, uncommunicative states of depression. The series concluded in April 2020 but is still streaming on Fox.
This drama series, which revolves around the world of figure skating, depicts the realities of bipolar and how it affects a mother and daughter duo. The daughter, Kat Baker (played by Kaya Scodelario), is a young ice skater restarting her career as a pairs skater while navigating the trials of living with her diagnosis. Carol Baker, her mother (played by January Jones), reveals her obsession with her daughter’s performance as she laments her own Olympic skating failure. The first season is now streaming on Netflix.
The award-winning medical drama on BBC features the character Zosia March (played by Camilla Arfwedson), a surgeon at Holby City Hospital. The character’s bipolar disorder features prominently in the storyline and explores her personality as being brilliant and strongly opinionated, while also portraying the instabilities and denial associated with episodes of mania. The series is entering its 22nd season later this summer.
#12 Degrassi: The Next Generation: Craig Manning & Eli Goldsworthy
The Canadian teen drama has tackled a range of social issues such as AIDS, alcoholism, abortion, bullying, gay rights and eating disorders. No surprise, then, that it’s had characters with bipolar disorder: musician Craig Manning (Jake Epstein), a regular from 2002–2006, and Eli Goldsworthy (Munro Chambers), who was introduced in 2010.
#13 Lady Dynamite: Maria Bamford
The Netflix comedy launched in 2016, starring stand-up comedian/actress Maria Bamford as herself, portraying her misadventures in Los Angeles after spending six months in recovery and attempts to rebuild her life while having consistent flashbacks on Maria’s backstory and her relationships with her family and friends.
Tanya Hvilivitzky has spent almost 30 years in the communications field—a career that has included stints as an investigative journalist, magazine managing editor, corporate communications director, and researcher/writer. She has been with bp Magazine and esperanza Magazine since 2016, serving in roles such as interim editor and, currently, the features editor. She also writes for the bpBUZZ section of bphope.com, where she synthesizes complex information into a format that both inspires and informs.
As an award-winning writer/editor, she received the Beyond Borders Media Award for her 2012 investigative exposé about human trafficking. Her work on this important topic also earned the Media Freedom Award “Honouring Canada’s Heroes” from the Joy Smith Foundation to Stop Human Trafficking.
With bipolar disorder, we’re more likely to become overdependent on our digital devices. Here’s how personal tech can affect our moods—plus tips for self-protection. Are we too attached to our digital devices? That question has been debated for almost as long as the iPhone has been around, giving rise to the first National Day of...
Some bipolar mood episodes can make us behave in ways that are “mean and nasty.” They aren’t fun—for anybody—but the good news is we can learn to recognize and prevent them before our relationships suffer. Many people believe that bipolar disorder comes with only sad depression or euphoric mania. In reality, this is just 50%...
I’m an expert in bipolar management, yet I still have frequent mood swings and deal with symptoms regularly. Shouldn’t I have “solved” this by now? Shouldn’t I have “recovered”? Bipolar Disorder, Expertise, & Mood Management I’ve been writing books about bipolar disorder management since 1998, and my webpage started in 2002. How is it possible...
No matter how desperate it feels, there’s hope—and tools and support—for climbing out of bipolar depression. When Sara F. of Massachusetts has a hypomanic episode, she copes OK. Her hypomania tends to be dysphoric rather than euphoric, so she gets more angry or irritable than usual—but she’s still able to function throughoutthe day. The bigger...