Mental health and the media often have a distorted relationship. Those with mental health issues are often portrayed as aggressive, unstable and violent. The reality is that those with mental health issues are more often victims. More recently, in fictional television shows, Homeland has portrayed Carrie Mathieson's bipolar disorder with multiple layers. She manages the many complications that comes along with a stressful professional career while also managing a mental illness. It was a major breakthrough for the mental health community.
The Fox primetime soap opera, Empire, has taken on the mental health issues. This primetime soap is about the Lyon Family and the music industry. Lucious is the family patriarch. His eldest son Andre has bipolar disorder. Andre, like Carrie from Homeland, is college educated and a professional. It is progress that two major television characters are portraying bipolar disorder is a positive light. Also like Carrie, Andre struggled to find his stability and ultimately has.
This season, Andre discovered a long held family secret that he inherited his bipolar disorder from his Grandmother, Lucious' mother. Other subplots with mental health concerns have played out this season. Lucious was a child raised by a Mother with untreated and extreme mental health issues. At what appeared to be around 9 years old she tried to drown Lucious in a bathtub and then proceeded to put a gun to her head, and pulled the trigger in front him. This left him an untreated traumatized child. As an adult the imprint of his trauma affects him in everything he does. He has viciously clawed his way to the top.
Lucious is using his traumatic experience to make a music video. You see his body physically respond and tense up when he is reliving the scenes of the drowning incident. He has never dealt with this, nor has it left him. As an adult, a man, and a father, he doesn't know how to have close emotional connections to those he really does love. He also treats his son's bipolar disorder as a character weakness. While considering his corporate successor he would never consider Andre because of him mental illness. And yet his own mental health issues continue to haunt him.
Lucious' mother reappeared this past week. She was kept away by Lucious but discovered by Andre. She had been living in an institution for the last 21 years, still suffering from her demons. This brings another layer of awareness of just how complicated mental health issues truly are. Andre naively believed that bringing her to live with the family would be enough to keep her stable just because he was stable. But unlike him, her mental illness was more complicated and always was. The episode closes showing her instability and the lasting effect that it has on Lucious and his inner child.
As a primetime soap opera subplots see compression and exaggeration. License is also taken. This is Children's Mental Month. Many children suffer from bipolar disorder. Many children suffer from early childhood traumas, which have long lasting impacts well into adulthood. Empire has done a wonderful job of bringing awareness of so many layers to the forefront.
I am thrilled that awareness is happening and a conversation is starting. Please know that there is good help and treatment for children who have mental health concerns. Unlike Lucious, no one has to suffer alone, or for the rest of their lives.