Thursday, February 7, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook and bipolar disorder

This is a film which honestly depicts the lived experience of someone with bipolar disorder (Pat, played by Bradley Cooper), someone with depression (Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence), and those closest to them. On this front it breaks new ground cinematically by making the story accessible to a wide audience through the rom-com genre and cast of well known and talented actors.

Bipolar disorder remains a much misunderstood condition amongst the public at large. The US National Institute of Mental Health records 2.6 percent of the adult population has the condition, 82.9 percent of cases are considered severe, and that only 38.8 percent of these individuals are receiving minimally adequate treatment.

A key reason why so few sufferers receive proper treatment is because many have not been diagnosed. It is common for a sufferer to go many years, even decades (as is the case with Pat) without being diagnosed. One very tangible benefit of a movie like Silver Linings Playbook is its power to raise awareness about the condition, helping efforts to reduce the painful and often tragic years of pre-diagnosis experienced by so many.

Additionally, the movie has plenty of insight and comfort to offer those who have been diagnosed. There are few things more helpful to a sufferer of mental illness than others showing they care about, and perhaps “get” to some degree, the challenges the person is going through. When you see this level of empathy and understanding displayed by filmmakers on the big screen it is a heartwarming experience, and Silver Linings Playbook delivers this in spades.

Set in modern day Philadephia, the movie follows the journey of Pat in the months ensuing his discharge from a psychiatric facility following a major breakdown. We learn Pat was diagnosed with bipolar disorder during his stay in hospital which was brought about by a crisis moment of finding his wife having an affair and an ensuing act of serious violence (it should be noted that violence is rare among the vast majority of people with bipolar disorder and other severe mental illnesses).

We also learn that prior to this incident, Pat had demonstrated symptoms of the condition since his teenage years and in the weeks prior to admission had been experiencing psychosis in the form of paranoid delusions about the behaviour of those around him.

The development of Pat’s relationship with his parents (brilliantly played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) and his friendship with the recently widowed Tiffany steadily lightens the movie up. This follows on from what is in my view a necessarily honest opening half hour where Pat goes through the worst of his struggles in terms of dealing with the traumatic memory of his breakdown and first difficult steps in attempting to recover from it all outside of hospital.

Silver Linings Playbook is a brave step into a genre usually reserved for characters who are fit and well. Most importantly, it insists that hope and healing are possible for a person regardless of how unwell they are or how hopeless their circumstances may appear.