Did Channel 4’s Being Bipolar help or harm those living with the illness?

Based on Twitter, at least, the overwhelming reaction to last night’s Channel 4 documentary Being Bipolar was a negative one.

The programme was of particular interest to those who are living with bipolar disorder or have a family member who does. And it certainly struck a chord with viewers but perhaps not in an entirely positive way (with the show’s presenter Philippa Perry bearing the brunt of much of the vitriol): 

More: Breaking the mental illness stigma

Even the National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH), whose Director Professor Ian Jones was featured in the documentary, has voiced concerns about how the subject of bipolar disorder was tackled.

“Most obviously, the film’s bias towards Philippa’s viewpoint as a psychotherapist was far from subtle,” said a post on the NCMH blog. “Her reluctance to accept that factors other than life experience play an important part in bipolar disorder was clear.

“The programme’s concentration on the extremes of the condition, while not unexpected, also felt like a missed opportunity to represent the lives of more typical bipolar disorder sufferers, and may well have made the condition seem more mystifying and strange to the casual viewer,” the post went on.

NCMH also took issue with the way bipolar medication was approached, observing that it seemed “oversimplified into an either/or problem — either medication or talking therapy being the options for treatment.”

However the documentary received some great reviews in the national press and amidst the outpouring of criticism on Twitter were a few lone voices of praise: 

One positive thing the programme has undoubtedly done is open up the conversation about bipolar disorder and mental health in general. Perry’s view that there may be a psychological basis for bipolar disorder is a legitimate one — after all, she is a psychotherapist. Now we need more media coverage of different angles on bipolar disorder and other types of mental illness and for the government to take action and ensure that the NHS caters for the 1 in 4 Brits who are affected. It’s all very well for professionals like Perry to advocate talking therapies over medication but for the vast majority of people with mental illness it’s simply not an option.

Living with bipolar disorder or close to someone who does? This video from mental health charity MIND might help.

Video credit: Mind, the mental health charity/YouTube

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