There have been lots of programmes and documentaries which have focused on physical health, and with almost two million people being diagnosed with bipolar, this was an insightful documentary following the lives of three people who suffer from the condition. Psychotherapist Philippa Perry wanted to uncover and understand what it is like to live with bipolar, and how far environmental factors were a cause.
Bipolar (formerly known as manic depression) is a condition that affects moods, swinging from from depressive episodes to mania. Before the 19th Century, mania and depression were treated as separate afflictions, and people were often treated in asylums. In this documentary, we follow three brave people to discover what it is like to live with the diagnosis.
First we meet Paul, who has bipolar I. In his mania, we learn that he has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in varies business schemes. When Philippa first meets him, he challenges the label and sees himself as divine and god-like. We dig further into his past; a talented and successful golfer and multi-millionaire. Although Paul doesn’t believe he suffered any trauma during childhood, it becomes apparent his high expectations and that coming second was not an option – it was failure. Towards the end of the programme, Philippa Perry suggests that perhaps developing this ‘god like’ persona was an unconscious decision to cope with not always being successful.
We are introduces to Sian, who has been diagnosed with bipolar II. With bipolar II, delusional symptoms are rare and the less-intense elevated moods are called hypomanic episodes, or hypomania. She has attempted suicide three times. The documentary examines how far genetics come into play with the diagnosis. Joanna Moncrieff, from UCL, argues that although taking medication can be useful, it does not prove that bipolar has a biological basis. Up until now, Sian has been dependent on her medication to try and keep her stable. For the first time, she engages with talking therapies and finds a therapist that can help her make sense of these overwhelming emotions.
Medication and therapies have not helped Ashley. We find out that in his childhood he showed signs of ASD and was bullied at school. We see Ashley (who has bipolar II) swing from elation to crippling lows several times a day. He has been taking anti-psychotic medication since he was eight years old. Philippa Perry describes his experiences as ‘walking on a tight rope of ecstasy and pain.’ To Perry, Ashley is stuck in trauma with each depressive spell, and is re-living it over and over again.
We end with Perry examining the bipolar label. How useful is it? Paul, Sian and Ashley have bipolar but offer very different experiences and symptoms. Too often the label marks the end of self-exploration: it should be the beginning. Well done C4 for raising awareness of bipolar! I wonder if there will be a follow up?