Compelling storylines for main television characters with bipolar disorder continue to gain popularity on the small screen, helping to reduce stigma and normalize mental illness.
Now going into its 16th season, 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.
#2 General Hospital
Breaking ground in daytime TV, this ABC soap opera revealed in a 2006 plot arc that longtime character “Sonny” Corinthos has bipolar—as does actor Maurice Benard, who plays the mob boss. The diagnosis provided context for Sonny’s dark moods, unpredictable temper, and self-destructive tendencies dating back to the character’s introduction in 1993. Over the years the show has built a surprisingly realistic portrait of someone with bipolar, touching on his treatment, lapses in medication compliance, and symptomatic episodes. A 2013 storyline revolved around an emotional crisis after Sonny went off his meds.
Renewed for a sixth season, this award-winning and ground-breaking political thriller on Showtime stars Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a CIA operations officer in counterterrorism. The character’s bipolar disorder was made clear when the show debuted in 2011. It plays an important role in the plot, both indirectly (as when Carrie uses the heightened focus of hypomania to figure things out) and directly (as when she is hospitalized and discredited in Season 3 as part of a plan to infiltrate an Iranian terrorist organization).
The Showtime series features a father (William H. Macy) who is alcoholic while his family of five struggle to get by financially. The comedy-drama also includes an estranged mom and son, Ian (Cameron Monaghan) who both have bipolar. Although the mother is a recurring character, Ian is one of the main characters and his mental illness starts to reveal itself in the fourth season, displaying intense mania, reckless and impulsive behavior, hypersexuality, and devastating depression. The show continues for its seventh season in October of 2016.
Andre (Trai Byers), the eldest son of the Lyon family has bipolar disorder. Educated and intelligent, he is the CFO of the family business Empire Entertainment, and was portrayed as high functioning by taking his medication to manage his brain-based disorder. However, out of anger toward his father, Andre flushes his medication and spirals into a breakdown. In the first season, Andre’s mother learns of her son’s previous bipolar diagnosis.
#6 Lady Dynamite
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.