Homeland - Is it Good for Bipolar Disorder Awareness?

October 22, 2012 Natasha Tracy

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.

Homeland is no average show. Homeland won Best Show, Best Writing, Best Actor and Best Actress Emmys. You can catch Homeland on Showtime in the US and Super Channel in Canada.

Of course, the reason I tuned is was to see how this show handles mental illness. And they do not too bad a job.

Carrie Mathison

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.)

Homeland Overall

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.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Image from Wikipedia.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, October 22). Homeland - Is it Good for Bipolar Disorder Awareness?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 24 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

December, 7 2012 at 6:04 am

I've heard Homeland is really good, but I had no idea the lead character has bipolar 1. I will certainly check it out. I really enjoyed watching Perception on TNT this fall. It features a professor with schizophrenia, played by Daniel Craig, who works as a consultant in crime investigation. It does play on the lead's special ability to make connections that others don't see, which is definitely arguable as to whether it accurately represents people with schizophrenia, but I'm still glad the show is on tv. In the final two episodes of season 1, he has a psychotic break and hospitalizes himself when his friends find him locked up in his apartment, fully in the throes of delusion. I don't mind if shows like Perception don't get things perfect in displaying mental illness, mainly because it's really difficult to get it just right. The very fact that we now have nationally televised shows with mentally ill leads is really something, I think.

October, 24 2012 at 11:41 am

I do think they do a fantastic job of portraying bipolar on Homeland. I would watch the show whether they had a bipolar character or didn't, but Claire Danes does a wonderful job. There were many times last season that literally had me on the edge of my seat holding my breath - waiting to see what Carrie would do. As I watched Homeland with my husband, I was able to point out things she did that I either have done or wanted to do. I know it helped him understand my illness. Her manic episode was incredible and I felt like I was living it with her. Once again, I know it helped my husband understand how I feel on those days when I can't sleep or slow down.
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.

Kristen Famiano
October, 23 2012 at 3:01 pm

This show is awesome, and there is no bad about it. Season 1 showed someone very functional who at first flirted with self destruction....before ultimately self-destructing. It doesn't matter what job you have....that's about as real as it gets. Claire Danes is fantastic. When she is overcome by emotion, I feel it with her, because I have been there. I subscribed to Showtime just for this show.

October, 23 2012 at 1:39 pm

Showtime showed an interview with the writer who writes the character of "Carrie." Her comments were good except she said that many artists and musicians who have bipolar disorder are extremely gifted and very smart. Though some studies have shown a correlation between the two, very few bipolars have this gift. I think the writer made the comment to flesh out the character of "Carrie." But it does give the wrong impression of bipolars.

October, 22 2012 at 9:15 pm

I have only recently begun to understand bipolar mostly b/c a new friend of mine has it and I've been reading more about it in an effort to understand her. I've also been trying to end stigma because of my best friend's depression & suicide.
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.

October, 22 2012 at 5:15 pm

The show has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to talk to people about the illness as I am able to say both, “That’s a really good portrayal!” as well as, “They got that wrong.”
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.

October, 22 2012 at 1:48 pm

Homeland is a great show and it helps raise mental health awareness for people. On the downside, like your article suggests it make bipolar look superhuman but that's how we feel in "mania mode" until we get hurt.
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.

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