A Bipolar World: ‘Up/Down’ Documentary

‘Manic-Depressive’ and ‘Bipolar’ are familiar terms to the general public and are often used as derogatory descriptors applied to people who behave erratically or are ‘moody’.  Then there is the stigma and prejudice: bipolar sufferers have ‘split personalities’ (one manic and the other depressed), or they are difficult to deal with, or their condition is resistant to treatment. Oh, and many are afraid that their condition will become public and they will lose their job, or it will be impossible to find another one. And what about being judged as being in someway culpable for developing such a condition?

Living with bipolar disorder is tough; it affects the sufferer themselves, their families, friends and even those they work with.  It is made even tougher by the prejudice and misunderstanding that abounds concerning this serious mental illness.

People living with bipolar often exist in a state of silent despair.  They don’t want to talk about their condition and just wish that it would go away; or they may have tried to talk to people about it in the past and have been rejected. But talking about it, no matter how painful it may be, is absolutely essential in order to educate the general public and to tackle stigma and prejudice.

That is why this excellent new documentary film ‘Up/Down’ is so important. It is made by a talented film-maker who himself has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and therefore knows the issues that accompany such a diagnosis intimately.  Moreover, he allows numerous fellow-sufferers and their families to tell their stories and in doing so the viewer is given a refreshingly candid insight into diagnosis, what it feels like to have this condition and how difficult it it to live with (for both the sufferer and their families) and the various forms of treatment available. What does depression feel like and what is so addictive about mania? Again, these questions are answered honestly and forthrightly by those who know best.

For me, there were two really striking points in the film.  Firstly, at the beginning, an extensive list of people who have truly made a difference to society, but also had bipolar disorder, was shown.  Individuals such as Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Vincent Van Gogh and a plethora of others from the world of arts, politics and science were bipolar. Having a bipolar diagnosis is therefore clearly no barrier to making a meaningful contribution to society. It might even help!

Secondly, although bipolar affects women and men equally, there were less of the latter talking about their condition on film.  This was picked up by the filmmaker who asked one of the male participants why this was; he answered in a predictable manner, namely that mental illness is still seen as a weakness in a society that expects men to be ‘strong’ and invulnerable.  He is of course correct in that assertion. Men generally are less willing to seek out help and are more likely to keep their condition a secret, both of which are unhealthy behaviours, but are widespread nonetheless.

Overall, Up/Down is a superb documentary and leaves the viewer with a real sense of hope, but also of realism.  Bipolar disorder is a devastating condition, but it can be treated and it can be managed.  With understanding and a ‘level playing field’, individuals with bipolar can excel in many areas.

If you are bipolar – watch this film.  If you have a family member who has bipolar – watch this film.  If you want to be informed about a condition that is widely misunderstood – watch this film! Here’s the trailer:

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