Channel 4 has annoyed me with it’s latest docu-entertainment offering “Being Bipolar” as it has many other sufferers of depression, medical professionals, psychiatrists and doctors.
But the program was trying to spread information about this debilitating illness so that’s good right? Wrong.
From the moment it started it was clear that the program had been based on a premise of Philippa’s which she wanted to either prove or disprove, the only problem being that she was already biased and throughout the show it was clear that she wasn’t going to back down. Her belief was that Bipolar Disorder was fundamentally caused by emotional events and that it could be dealt with primarily through talking therapies instead of medication.
She met three different people who suffered from the illness in varying degrees and this is a very small data set to give a fair representation of an illness – but what annoyed me most was the fact that she kept asking if there was any “trauma” in their past that would have caused it. This seems to be a common misconception with a lot of people, and in my experience particularly with psychotherapists. This desire for the problem to be caused by a traumatic event that can be discussed and logically processed is almost crippling to their ability to be able to discover the actual causes.
Despite being told by many of the professionals who she interviewed that there was a) genetic precursors, b) a strong importance on medication, c) an accepted and well tested fundamental belief held by the entire profession, she was determined to get across the point that therapy was in her eyes the one true solution. The show even labors the point after convincing one of the sufferers to attend a counseling session – when they come out we are shown how elated she is that its the “start of the end” – would the same level of emphasis have been placed if the counseling wasn’t a success? I felt it was brushed over a bit when discussing Ashley’s therapy attempt.
Why am I annoyed?
Here are the main reasons it annoyed me:
1. Its biased
This should have been presented by quite frankly anyone other than Philippa Perry – a psychotherapist analyzing the importance of medication is a bit like asking a builder for gardening advice – no matter what you want he thinks concrete is the solution. If channel 4 wanted to truly present a view of Bipolar they could have done much differently to give a better representation of both the illness, its sufferers and the treatments available.
2. Whats wrong with drugs?
I got the impression from the show that the fact that these people were being treated with prescription medication was somehow bad? If it had been Philippa’s choice I am pretty sure that none of them would have been prescribed those meds. But for someone who admits during the show that she is unqualified she sure seems to have a strong view of these forms of treatments even at one stage stating that they were not treating the cause of the problem (like she knows what it is!)
Part of the depression stigma is the drugs, and showing them in this light was neither effective or productive. It has the potential to deter people from seeking medication that could potentially save their lives or at the very least make their lives a little more manageable.
3. 40 Minutes!
There are limits to a shows length, and I understand that – but for the allotted time this was a very poor insight into the world of mental illness and I think giving prime time coverage to an otherwise very under publicized subject could have been better managed. When television shows give up the air time for something so important they should understand that they also have a duty of care to present correct and fair judgements.
I found myself relating to a lot of the symptoms which Ashley showed, but I also think that the show has purposely chosen rather extreme cases of an illness for its “show appeal” – a more rounded and inclusive sample of sufferers should have been incorporated otherwise it can deter people from seeking out a diagnosis. The idea that “well I’m not like that, so its not bipolar” can prevent people getting treatment.