Stephen Fry. A name is synonymous with being brilliant, bright, and depressed. He’s just presented the 2016 BAFTA’S and got himself in hot water over a comment about his friend and deleted his twitter account but more on that later. He filmed a documentary of his struggle with bipolar ten years ago.
The Not So Secret Life of the Manic Depressive: 10 Years On is a ‘where are they now’ style look at some of the contributors from ten years ago. Is there a brighter future now for those with bi-polar the programme asks? Four million people in the UK suffer from it. That seems a vast amount.
The first former interviewee is Cordelia. She discovered her bipolar while studying at Oxford, then 26 she is now 36. Then, she was hopeful of beating the problem. Now, she writes a blog about her bipolar – it is still very much there. A few months high, a few months low. She can’t hold down a regular job. She has also been diagnosed with cancer, it is terminal. Her friend’s lives have moved on but, as her mother infers, she will never have that normal life. Watching her clutch her mother’s hand as if a she were a child, as they walk around, is particularly sad.
Akika is another interviewee who was filmed on the tube singing during a manic episode. The negative reactions the video received online are a sad reminder of the trolling prevalent on social media today. It draws comparisons with Stephen’s situation at the BAFTAs when comments on his tweet drove him off Twitter. Akika visits schools teaching children about mental health issues. Hearing the children’s say they want to talk about these issues but the adults in their lives are less inclined is perhaps a sign of a generational shift. A positive one.
Throughout the show we see excerpts from Stephen’s own life. He talks about the mania that affected him in the last few months after a period of constant travelling. We hear how his family and friends pick up on clues that he is struggling again, accelerated speech being one such tell. This seems to be the standout factor in this show, friends and family. There is a chef, called Scott, who thought Annie Lennox was sending him messages. It is Scott’s wife, Hayley that forces him to get help because of the effect it is having on their family. Even then there are no easy answers. Medication can be difficult to cope with, in Scott’s case slowing down and dampening his emotions.
Finally we meet Rachel, a young girl paralysed when, in the grip of mania, she jumped off a balcony. If you thought it couldn’t get more depressing the story lifts again when we learn she got a job helping people with similar problems. Rachel’s friends were an also an inspiration and hugely supportive of her.
This comes at a time of mental health funding cuts abut also when our awareness seems the highest it’s been. It’s frightening to think of how many people are vulnerable. Hearing Cordelia’s mother describing the terrible lows her daughter endures or Alika’s recalling him being carried off by the police after an episode is distressing. There is that light though, the work the people are doing to talk about their condition and the strong support network many seem to have. This was a good show portraying a realistic look at the lives of those with this condition. Sobering viewing for a Monday night.