May 14, 2012

Homeland Poster with Clare Danes and Damian Lewis: The nation sees a hero, she sees a threat.Homeland is my must see viewing for the week. It is a series that does not advertise the fact that one of the lead characters has a mental health problem and did not clearly acknowledge the significance of this until the penultimate episode.

There have been hints and clues dropped throughout that Carrie (a CIA agent) has a mood disorder.Her need for regular medication, her determination to keep her illness and diagnosis away from her working life and her obsessive tunnel vision outlook on the world were all there from the very start. However, it was only in the second to last episode (I have yet to see the final) that this became pivotal to the storyline.

As someone that doesn’t personally suffer from bipolar disorder I can’t comment too much on how realistic this drama is. However, given my diagnosis of borderline personality disorder I do have familiarity with periods of mania where I truly believe I can do anything. This is coupled with my obsessive nature and a tendency to focus on one thing, losing sight of other areas or aspects of my life. I felt was conveyed with painful accuracy.

not once were we made to feel sorry for her or see her as a “lesser” person because of her illness

What struck me most, however, was how nice it was to have a drama that didn’t from the outset set this character aside as bad, or mad or even dangerous. We as an audience grew to love Carrie: the insight she showed, her dedication to her work and her passion to do right. We pitied her in a world dominated by politics and big wigs but not once were we made to feel sorry for her or see her as a “lesser” person because of her illness.

We could sympathise as she tried to hold on to her secret battle with mental illness and we could share her pain as her world crumbled into pieces but what we saw was a strong, determined brave young woman who wasn’t a diagnosis but a highly successful intelligent adult.

I rarely watch TV shows that depict mental illness. I’ve got used to feeling belittled and hopeless by them or inadequate by the astounding recovery the characters make. If I’d known bipolar would play a role in this drama then I probably wouldn’t have watched this either but for once I’m glad I have.

The fact one of the leads has mental illness...it’s made no difference.

It’s a fast paced, compulsive story line that has made excellent television. The fact one of the leads has mental illness...it’s made no difference. It has added depth to an already tight plot whilst giving mental illness the exposure that’s needed. It’s shown that just because we’re ill doesn’t make us weak or unlovable, it doesn’t mean we can’t work or be successful and it doesn’t make us manipulative or self absorbed.

It’s shown the impact it can have on lives; the pain, the heartache and the devastation. But really, Carrie’s battle highlights the stigma that surrounds mental health and the very real frustration so many of us feel when health gets in the way of life, it’s not a choice but the way we are.

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Find out more about Time to Change's Media Advisory Service, which works to influence portrayals of mental health in the media.

Read more about Homeland: Homeland's depiction of mental illness has been a step forward for TV >>


 

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