Shameless's Accurate Portrayal of Bipolar Disorder

I took a class last semester that focused on the portrayal of mental health in film. I learned that, most often, mental health is portrayed as someone who is violent. However, the thing is, those with mental health conditions are more prone to have violent acts happen to them than to perpetrated violent acts. Since taking that class, I am appalled by how often mental health, when it is portrayed, is portrayed in an inaccurate manner. With that, I'm ecstatic when any condition is portrayed accurately.

I'm also a huge fan of the television show Shameless which accurately portrays Bipolar Disorder. 

Bipolar Disorder is a brain disorder that causes shifts in mood, energy, activity, and one's ability to carry out day-to- day activities. It features manic and depressive episodes where the person is very energized and elated to very down and hopeless. With Bipolar Disorder 1, Manic episodes tend to last about a week and sometimes so severe that immediate hospitalization is needed while depressive episodes last about two weeks. Sometimes, they can happen at the same time. The following are some signs and symptoms. 

Ian Gallagher is one of the main characters in the popular television show Shameless and he is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I'm putting out a spoiler alert because I'll be talking about what happens to Ian from season 1 through season 8. You have been warned.

From season 1 until season 3 a lot happens for Ian. He comes out as gay and his boyfriend knocks up a hooker who he then marries. Ian drops out of high school and illegally enlists in the Army where he tries to steal a helicopter and goes AWOL. In season 4, his family finds him working in a club and very manic. He is abusing drugs, barley sleeping, and partying excessively. His mania continues: he's erratic and makes extravagant breakfasts at unusual hours of the day. He then threatens his friend's abusive boyfriend and won't leave his bed. This is when his family realizes he probably has Bipolar Disorder just like their mother and they try to get his boyfriend to get him some help but he doesn't want to commit him to a "nut house". This view is often typical as hospitals are often portrayed as a place for crazy people and no one wants to think their loved one (or themselves) are crazy. That is one of the problems with how society talks about and portrays mental health and facilities that help people. 

Season 5 sees Ian manic and helping his boyfriend's baby. His sister ask if he has visited a doctor and reminds him that the time he should go is when he feels good. He then starts to have a lot of spontaneous and unprotected sex and even agrees to do a porno to make extra cash. This is when his boyfriend finally realizes that he can't help Ian, that he needs professional help. Ian won't accept his condition and kidnaps the baby. 

After this, he is arrested and hospitalized but still refuses to believe he has bipolar disorder. 

In Season 6, his boyfriend is arrested and viewers see him start to accept his condition and even stand up for himself. 


In season 8, we see him taking his meds and continue keeping his health his main priority. 


Ian's diagnosis comes midway through the series and viewers see him come to terms with it, something people with mental health conditions have to do (same with the people around him). Viewers see the ups and downs, the "normal" moments and the "bipolar" moments of a loved character. His actions aren't violent like they would be in a horror movie, and that is exactly what society needs to be seeing in order to end the stigma surrounding mental health. This is just a start.