Disclaimer: I speak for myself and what I think. I am not a medical professional and cannot offer medical advice. I have no training in any mental health field.
In watching the TV show Black Box, I have to wonder how many people think it is a realistic portrayal of bipolar disorder. I wouldn’t say that it is, though I am certainly no expert. However, after going on IMDb, I was surprised to see that there were people with Bipolar Disorder who thought the show’s portrayal was completely believable. Allow me to reprint some comments.
Black Box is Believable
A comment by gokartgirl38 reads:
” This show has touch me more then I can explain. I live with bipolar myself and often find it hard to explain how it really feels inside. This show could actual give a true view of a taboo subject cause fact is it how we feel at time.”
I can buy into that. It is an accurate representation of the feelings associated with Bipolar Disorder (Which Bipolar variant are we talking about? The show never stipulates, but I am guessing type 1–the most severe).
Black Box is Unbelievable
But what about other the other elements of bipolar disorder? A post entitled “This show is so unrealistic” has some very heated back and forth amongst the commenters. The OP has a list of eleven points revealing why the show is unbelievable. I thought points three, four, and nine were excellent critiques on the presentation of bipolar disorder.
“3) They would not attend a conference of such magnitude and deliberately go off their meds.”
Dr. Black went off her meds before heading to an important medical conference where she had speaking responsibilities. Doctors who make poor choices like this probably do not remain as doctors. I don’t know how such a successful person with the condition could remain the “Marco Polo” of neurology while being noncompliant.
“4) Going off your meds does not mean that you will immediately experience an episode, just like it takes a while for meds to start working (1-2 weeks at least), it takes a while for them to stop working.”
Jannas-email wrote in reply:
“I cringed when she skipped one dose of meds and immediately went into a manic episode.”
Again, this is a very good point. There is a scene where we see Dr, Black flushing her meds one night and then literally becomes manic in that very same night. This results in an ambulance ride and paramedics pumping her full of haldol. I’ve never heard of people shifting into full blown mania so abruptly. Am I wrong? Am I missing something? Are we supposed to believe that no one with Bipolar Disorder ever FORGOT to take their meds (just like most people do)? Wouldn’t there be far more emergencies if it were really that easy to switch into mania. The show makes it appear that people with the disorder become manic at the drop of a hat.
“9) IF she really was that non-compliant and suffers episodes so frequently her colleagues would notice and whether they managed to correctly diagnose her condition, they would still manage to understand she was not capable of seeing patients. Whether they did something about it is open to debate, but they would definitely notice.”
I absolutely agree. That kind of non-compliance and rapid cycling would have been quickly picked up on by colleagues. The point of a manic episode is that it is noticeable to other people and makes them uncomfortable. If it bothered no one it would not be a disorder.
My Conclusion On All Of This
Again, I am not a mental health professional (though I have seen my share of psychiatrists). But this show is asking us to suspend disbelief when it is gushing with unbelievable moments. This isn’t even like House where everyone knew he was a drug addict, and it was just as simple as they couldn’t control him. He also had a whole team making up for his shortcomings. No one knows Dr. Black is bipolar and all she has is a couple of ducklings following her around. I don’t know that her “team” could pick up the slack for her if something ever went wrong. I get the impression that they are residents who require supervision, whereas House’s team was all out of residency and could act independently. They were there to monitor House just as much as he was there to monitor them.
With that said, it would not surprise me if the creators are smarter than I thought. It could turn out that her colleagues have known or strongly suspected her condition all along, and they secretly had safeguards in place in case something ever went wrong. We shall see as the show unfolds.